Part of Prince Philip’s memorable life involved visiting Prague with his wife Queen Elizabeth in 1996 as part of their “Central European Tour.”
At the time, it was ostensibly the most important diplomatic visit in Czech history, and elaborate rehearsals went on for months beforehand to make sure everything ran like clockwork.
After arriving by private jet and being escorted in two Rolls Royces, the Royal couple were welcomed at Prague Castle by Czech President Havel to “God Save The Queen,” and watched the entire Changing of The Guard ceremony.
In an interview with Czech Radio, longtime spokesman for Havel, Ladislav Špaček, said that the President was the main reason Phillip and Elizabeth ever agreed to come to Czechoslovakia.
“The fact that she [the Queen] accepted the invitation was something extraordinary and it was all thanks to Václav Havel, whose personality attracted state leaders from all around the world, including members of royal families.”
The entire operation was nerve-racking for Havel’s team, and Špaček recalls a slightly awkward moment between him and the Queen.
“President Havel wanted to assist the Queen and he lightly touched her elbow to steer her in the right direction. At that moment, the officer with the sabre who stood behind her snapped at him: Don’t touch her majesty, please!
“Mr. Havel later told me he thought he might pull out the sword, but luckily, nothing like that happened.”
Phillip and Elizabeth stayed in Liechtenstein Palace and enjoyed a rather thorough experience of Czech culture while also engaging in light diplomacy, mostly supporting the Czech Republic’s agenda for joining NATO and the EU. The couple split up for a day so that Elizabeth could go to Brno where she was gifted 18-karat gold jewelry. Phillip, however, opted to visit the Kladruby stud farm in Kutná Hora where he was friends with the owner.
Back in Prague, the Royal Couple enjoyed a performance at the Rudolfinum from world-renowned conductor Libor Pešek. Presumably very impressed with the performance, Her Majesty awarded Pešek with the Order of the British Empire.
“I had never had such jitters before any concert like this one. After the concert in Rudolfinum upstairs in the lounge, the Queen handed me the order in the presence of President Havel and Prince Philip,” Pešek recalls.
On April 9th, Prince Philip died on the 99th day of his 99th year of life, 25 years after his first and only visit to Prague. President Miloš Zeman, who personally met the Royal Couple during their 1996 visit, offered Philip’s family his condolences.
“This was an extraordinary honor for me. I have always considered Prince Philip a unique personality who with his charm, nobility and intellect represented Britain in the best sense of the word.”
He also commented on Prince Philip’s legacy and his life that became a part of history.
“His life is in a way an unbelievable chronicle of modern history not only of Britain but of the entirety of Europe. I am convinced that his exceptional legacy will keep living in our hearts.”