I first met the Duke of Edinburgh at the Prince Philip Designers Prize Evening in 1999 where I was awarded a prize for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Design for Business and Society’.
The organisers placed me next to Prince Philip on the top table and we got on very well. Within a few minutes we were discussing engineering and design. The conversation soon moved on to the subject of his carriage horse racing which he was passionate about, and I in turn began to tell the Duke tales from our crazy Soapbox Grand Prix which was held annually at our Chateau in the Dordogne.
By the end of the evening we had agreed to stay in touch and more specifically I had agreed to help Prince Philip with enhancing the design of his racing carriage. I also promised to send the Duke a video of the latest Soapbox Grand Prix race.
I found him to be one of the most straightforward knowledgeable and funniest men I have ever met.
In due course I received an invitation to visit Windsor to discuss carriage design and in 2000 I set off for Windsor Castle to meet the Duke in the stables. He couldn't have been more relaxed and charming and we were soon debating how best to update the carriages brakes and harness. After the discussion Prince Philip took me for some laps of his practice course alongside the Thames and proceeded to frighten the life out of me! I was amazed by his cognitive empathy with the horses and at the amount of control he had over the team.
Once we had finished at the stables Prince Philip asked me about McLaren and what we were working on, he then asked if he could follow me back to Woking to come and see the business! I jumped into my Smart City Coupe, and he and a member of staff climbed into a Range Rover and followed me back to Woking. On arrival I lept out of my car and ran into reception in an attempt to warn them of the shock they were about to get! An impromptu tour of our design office illustrated just how knowledgeable the Duke was about technology in materials. He had several chats with the designers at their desks, putting them at ease within minutes. One particular conversation was around instrumentation lighting. The Duke asked if the instruments were to be backlit or floodlit and then proceeded to explain to the designer that he had recently seen a light-emitting plastic at a UK University and that he would forward the details to us. The very next day we received a letter from Prince Philip enclosing the promised information.
In 2000 I sent Prince Philip a video of our Château Blancmange Soapbox Grand Prix and I received a letter in return to say how much he had enjoyed watching it, with a request to be copied on all future races. For the 17 years that followed, I sent him a video of the racing and every year I had received a personal signed letter back with thanks and comments on the particular race.
After 10 years of our Soapbox racing we decided to produce a book to commemorate the anniversary. The book was to be gifted to competitors only and not for publication. I wrote to Prince Philip's office at the time to ask if the Duke would consider writing a foreword to the book and his office politely reminded me that the Royal Family could not endorse the likes of a book, however, Prince Philip being true to the character that he was wrote a foreword to our book.
I met Prince Philip on many other occasions and I had the pleasure of working with him when I was on the council of the Royal Society of Arts. He visited Gordon Murray Design in 2008 and showed a lot of interest and gave us a lot of encouragement with our iStream® manufacturing technology. I have had the pleasure of visiting Buckingham Palace on a number of occasions including a very enjoyable lunch with Her Majesty and the Prince.
We have lost a truly extraordinary man; in my mind he was one of a kind. His legacy will live on and continue to make our world a better place. I will always treasure the time we shared together.