Earlier today, I gave my 61st "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.
The date was scheduled well in advance, and last Wednesday I wrote a "Thought", recorded it, and provided the recording to the BBC. I was expecting to spend part of Saturday selecting newspaper stories to discuss with the presenter Mike Shaft.
Then on Friday lunchtime Prince Philip died.
My contact at BBC Radio Manchester phoned me to explain that all of the schedules were being revised, and that the Sunday Breakfast Programme where I deliver the "Thought" would be devoted entirely to commemorating Prince Philip. However she would investigate whether the programme planners wanted me to do a appear and give a new "Thought" about Prince Philip. Shortly afterwards she confirmed that the BBC did want this.
I wrote a new "Thought" and recorded it on Friday evening. It was transmitted this morning, and you can both hear it and read it below.
It allowed me to make a point often ignored in discussions about the monarchy. Namely the lack of freedom being heir to the throne entails.
While my politics have changed over the years, all my life I have been consistent about being a republican. However that does not stop me recognising the service that members of the Royal Family give to our country.
Have you wanted someone else’s life? Even if you are very happy, how about an upgrade?
Most children have strong imaginations. I certainly did. Mohammed Amin – Starship Captain! Or even Mohammed Amin – Superman!
A poor child in Manchester could imagine having Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, as his father. I watched the Beverley Hillbillies every week on TV!
However, there was one fantasy I never had. That was being born into the Royal Family.
Even as a child, I knew what that meant. Living in a palace, and having a title, might be nice. However, being Royal had a fundamental drawback. Your life is not your own.
From the day that her uncle abdicated, and her father became king, the 10-year-old Princess Elizabeth knew her destiny. The rest of her life would be dedicated to serving her country. And that is what she has done. Unless Princess Elizabeth wanted to walk away completely, she had no choice.
However, Prince Philip of Greece did have a choice. His father, Prince Andrew, was only the fourth son of the Greek king. The risk of Philip ending up as King of Greece was negligible. He could plan his own life.
He chose to marry Princess Elizabeth of Britain. He knew what that meant. A lifetime of silence, walking two steps behind. He made that choice, out of love.
Today we mourn someone who dedicated his life to serving his wife, and to serving his adopted country. A lesson for all of us.
Normally my "Thought for the Week" is followed by me discussing with Mike some stories I have selected from the week’s newspapers.
Today the BBC varied the arrangements. Instead I was asked to share my thoughts about Prince Philip in conversation with Mike.
What happened reminded me that when appearing in the media, you need to be able to think on your feet and answer unexpected questions.
I knew that Mike would ask me about my near-meeting with Prince Philip, because I had told the programme producer about it. However I had no knowledge about what else Mike might ask me.
His questions actually took me by surprise, and I needed to compose my answers on the spur of the moment, basically thinking as I spoke.
I have downloaded the interview. I am not publishing Mike’s part in the interview for copyright reasons, but have summarised his questions below followed by the audio of my answers.
This first unexpected question was quite easy!
Mike had picked up the fact that I had failed to answer the question he asked.
This the only question that I knew about in advance.
My failure to speak to Prince Philip at the official opening of the Forbes Mellon Library on 11 June 1986 was just like my failure that same year on 27 July 1986 to speak to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recounted on my page "Reflections on the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher."
In my answer I had no hesitation mentioning that I have been a lifelong republican.
Provided you express your views courteously, you can say such things even on the occasion of Prince Philip’s death.
More so than any of Mike’s questions, this one took me completely by surprise. I had to speak and think at the same time.
My wife has listened to the interview and said that she (as someone who knows me well) could not tell that I was struggling to compose an answer.
Obviously many years by now of giving interviews have helped to develop my ability to cope!