It's the image that summed up the day and you can place the credit firmly with one person. Since the moment he entered the Royal Family, 70 years ago, Prince Philip has shown a knack for handling the media. The photo of him tipping his hat during his final public engagement on August 2nd 2017 has made the front page of just about every UK paper and there's a reason for that. It sums up the story of the Duke of Edinburgh retiring perfectly and the man himself knows that better than anyone.
Tomorrow's front page: Pollution tunnels to tackle car emissions #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/mhjBL2oFoM— The Times of London (@thetimes) August 2, 2017
I've no doubt Philip was firmly in control of that final image of his royal public life that he created as he tipped his hat. He left the stage on his terms. By giving everyone the photo they wanted - a gentleman, moving on gracefully and with all the elegant manners of discretion that have marked his royal career - he took control of this historic moment. Once the hat tip was in the photographic bag, there was no chance of anyone seeking out a raindrop on his cheek or a hand near his eye to create an image of sentimentality a long way removed from this bedrock of the House of Windsor. Philip went out on Philip's terms.
But then that's not really a surprise. As the Twitter account of the Royal Family reminded us as Philip was carrying out his last solo public duty, he was the first member of the House of Windsor to give a TV interview. He was the mastermind behind the still talked about TV documentary, Royal Family, shown in 1969. The Duke of Edinburgh has been a PR supremo for years. What Philip understood from the moment he entered the Firm was that image will happen so the best thing to do is to be in charge of it. That doesn't mean a maniacal desire for picture perfection, it means deciding the story you're going to tell, doing it and doing it with confidence.
The House of Windsor has been built on good PR and it's almost foundered when it's got it very wrong. The name itself, chosen just 100 years ago, was an effort of image creation like no other, and steadied the royal ship when many across the continent were foundering. And yet we all remember the anger felt just twenty years ago when, in the aftermath of Diana's death the Royal Family just seemed to carry on as normal until what seemed like a breaking point was reached. Taking control, when possible, is key to success.
It's about more than following the crowd or being seen to be seen. A quick look at the Kensington Royal Twitter account this week shows that. The good work being done in commemorating #Passchendaele100 was almost undone by one video of William and Kate arriving at a light and sound event marking the anniversary - watch it below.
The Duke and Duchess with The King and Queen of The Belgians arrive in Ypres for a special #Passachendaele100 commemorative event. pic.twitter.com/oxjskNPZLF— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) July 30, 2017
My first thought wasn't solemn and dignified, it was X Factor final, the judges' arrival. OK, glitzy moving pictures are where Twitter and Instagram are at but that's not controlling your royal image. That's doing what you think should be done and that's not being in charge. Contrast that with the Royal Family's tweet as Philip's royal career ended - a simple photo of the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen, looking to the future on their terms. That's the way to do it.
His Royal Highness may still attend events alongside The Queen from time to time. pic.twitter.com/qnamtDptM0— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) August 2, 2017
Philip always got the difference between following trends and setting them. Now he has time on his hands let's hope he can pass it on to the younger generation. For Philip has an understanding of image that has been vital to the House of Windsor. One hat tip proved that all over again.