When author Philip Eade started work on his biography of Prince Philip, he originally thought that he’d be focusing on a different subject entirely. “The idea for this biography came a little unexpectedly from a book I briefly toyed with writing about prominent ufologists in the period just after the Second World War,” he wrote in the introduction to Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II. “I was struck by the revelation [...] that Prince Philip’s equerry once went off at the prince’s bidding to meet an extraterrestrial humanoid at a house in Ealing.”
Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband of more than 70 years, died last Friday at the age of 99. In the days since, we’ve been reminded that, much like your mom’s cousin Randy, the Duke of Edinburgh also spent the past few decades without an identifiable day job, dabbled in racism, and was really into aliens.
According to Eade's book, Philip was a longtime subscriber to a British quarterly called Flying Saucer Review (no, really) and exchanged regular letters with Timothy Good, a ufologist and author who has described himself as the “leading authority on UFOs and the alien presence.” In one letter, Philip wrote that there are “many reasons to believe that [extraterrestrials] exist,” because “there is so much evidence from reliable witnesses.”
Philip shared this enthusiasm with his equerry (an officer of the royal household), Sir Peter Horsley, who later became the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Air Force Strike Command. Shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in the summer of 1953, Prince Philip reportedly gave Horsley the go-ahead to look into any credible accounts of alien encounters or UFO sightings.
“Prince Philip was open to the immense possibilities leading to space exploration, while at the same time not discounting that, just as we were on the fringe of breaking into space, so older civilizations in the universe might already have done so,” Horsley said, according to Eade. He also admitted that the prince allowed him to invite several people to Buckingham Palace to talk about their extraterrestrial encounters. Apparently, Philip and Horsley thought this was “a method as effective as any truth serum,” and that nobody would chat shit in front of a member of the Royal Family.
Horsley was a believer, too. In his autobiography, Sounds From Another Room: Memories of Planes, Princes, and the Paranormal, he recounted a time he was called to a posh west London flat to meet with Mr. Janus, a strange, seemingly telepathic man who wanted to score an invite to the Palace.
“It was here the strangeness of it all started – the man’s extraordinary ability to read my thoughts,” Horsley wrote. “I asked him why he wanted to meet Prince Philip and he replied, ‘Prince Philip is a man of great vision, a person of world renown and a leader in the realm of wildlife and the environment. He is a man who believes strongly in the proper relationship between man and nature which will prove of great importance in future galactic harmony.’”
Although he puzzled over who or what Janus was—when he went back to that address, he wrote, “there was no sign of life in it”—Horsley eventually decided that dude had to be an alien. “We talked for hours about traveling in space and time,” he told The Daily Mail in 1997. “He didn’t say he was a visitor from another planet but I had that impression. I believe he was here to observe us. I never saw him again.”
It seems like Philip’s interest in unidentified flying... everything was encouraged by his uncle, Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten (yes, he’s in The Crown). Mountbatten was also a Flying Saucer Review subscriber, and in 1950, he wrote a letter stating that whoever was piloting alien craft had to have come here from another planet. “Martians, Venusians, Jupeterians, or what have you,” he explained, according to Eade. “Why should life in another planet with entirely different conditions in any way resemble life on our planet? Their inhabitants might be ‘gaseous’ or circular or very large. They certainly don’t breathe, they may not have to eat and I doubt if they have babies — bits of their great discs may break away and grow into a new creature [...] If the human race wishes to survive they may have to band together.”
In February 1955, Mountbatten typed up an official report about an alien encounter that a bricklayer named Fred Briggs reported experiencing on the grounds of Mountbatten's country estate, Broadlands. In a statement that he gave to Mountbatten, Briggs said that he’d seen a large metallic grey object “hovering stationary” over the snow-covered ground.
“While I was watching, a column, about the thickness of a man, descended from the center of the saucer and I suddenly noticed on it, what appeared to be a man, presumably standing on a small platform on the end,” he wrote. “He did not appear to be holding on to anything. He seemed to be dressed in a dark suit of overalls and was wearing a close fitting hat or helmet.”
Briggs said that he and his bicycle were then knocked over and held to the ground by an “unseen force” as the craft flew off. In his report, Mountbatten wrote that he’d gone to the place where Briggs “saw the Flying Saucer” and was immediately convinced that it had really happened. “Mr. Briggs was still dazed when I first saw him and was worried that no one would believe his story,” Mountbatten wrote. “He has offered to swear to the truth of this statement on oath of the Bible, if needed, but I saw no point in asking him to do this.” (Apparently, this report was not discovered until after Mountbatten’s death. Huh.)
In 1962, Mountbatten wrote to Lord Solly Zuckerman, the Ministry of Defense’s chief scientific adviser, asking for his opinion on alien spacecraft. The scientist responded that he put UFOs in the same category as ghosts and the Loch Ness Monster, because there was no evidence to prove that any of them actually exist. Shortly after that, Mountbatten said, he’d “gradually lost interest” in UFOs.
Prince Philip, though, never got over his alien obsession. According to Vanity Fair, last summer, he read a book about the Rendlesham Forest Incident, one of England’s most well-known UFO sightings. Philip’s private secretary reportedly wrote a letter to one of the book’s co-authors, telling him that “it will be read with close interest.” On another occasion, when Philip received a book called Haunted Skies: The Encyclopedia of British UFOs, his secretary responded that the Prince would “add this copy to his collection” and that the book “will make a most welcome addition to his library.”
If anything, Philip’s lifelong fascination with alien shit just reinforces the fact that when the upper classes have unconventional beliefs, they’re praised as “inquisitive” and “open-minded.” When people without country estates and household staff do it, they’re “weird” and “should probably leave this Wendy’s.”
Prince Philip’s funeral will be held on Saturday and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 30 earthlings will be permitted to attend the service at St George’s Chapel. You might be able to find parking space for your flying saucer, though.