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Former presiding officer defends Prince Philip’s Holyrood ‘gaffe’

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THE first presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament has defended the late Duke of Edinburgh’s “gaffes” as just his “tremendous sense of humour”.

David Steel, who became a peer of the House of Lords in 1997 and Holyrood‘s first presiding officer in 1999, was speaking on Good Morning Scotland about his recollections of Prince Philip.

Steel, who served as the presiding officer until May 2003, said that he first met the duke in 1983 when he was chancellor of Edinburgh University and Steel was the rector.

In the years that followed, it seems the two developed a relationship through interactions at formal events and the creation of the Scottish Parliament.


Steel said that the characterisation of Prince Philip’s particular style of humour by the media as “gaffes” was all wrong and that he was just “very funny”.

Steel shared a few of his favourite anecdotes of the duke, including a remark that he needed planning permission for a particularly colourful tie and that flying to Tanzania was an “original excuse” for leaving dinner early, but added “when you get there you might find that I liberated them”, referring to the fact that he “pulled down the flag” on their independence in the sixties.

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Steel’s favourite was one about the Scottish Parliament which is located across the street from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

Steel said: “Perhaps his best one – which was to do with the Parliament – was when I was told when he was planting a tree at Holyrood Palace to block the view of the Parliament. He said that he was blocking the view of ‘Steel’s Parliament’ as he called it. I thought, right, the next time I see him I’m going to tackle him on this, and I did.

“I said: ‘Is it true you’re planting a tree to block the view of the Parliament?’ He said yes. I said: ‘Surely the view’s better than that of the old disused brewery that was there before?’ And he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said: ‘Marginally.’”

The Holyrood Brewery closed in 1986 and was later demolished with the Scottish Parliament now standing in its place.

Construction on the Holyrood parliament building began in June 1999 and the first debate was held in the new building in September 2004.

Before construction finished, committee rooms and the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament were housed in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland located on The Mound in Edinburgh.

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