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For almost 40 years they exchanged letters that were chatty, tender, kind… and at times even a little bizarre.
Today Prince Philip ’s loyal pen pal Liona Boyd reveals her extraordinary friendship with “the most wonderful, kind and humorous man”.
Musician Liona told the Sunday Mirror how she “clicked” with the Duke when they were introduced at a royal event in the Seventies.
She said the pair went on to exchange well over a hundred letters, each of hers scented with French perfume, which she often does.
But their friendship truly took off when the Duke invited Liona aboard his private plane in 1995 – and personally flew her from Manchester to a naval base in Norfolk.
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She told us: “I was so shocked when he took the controls himself. It was a bit bumpy.”
Liona, 71 – who was photographed with the plane’s mascot, a cuddly hedgehog named Lunch – recounted the “surreal” flight in his Hawker Siddeley 146 in her autobiography.
It tells how she “chatted with the crew, sat in the Queen’s chair, tested out her ‘loo’ and nibbled on crustless cucumber sandwiches” while Philip visited a local bakery.
The Prince had offered her the lift after a performance in Leeds for the Outward Bound Trust, of which he was patron and chairman until 2019.
Her book In My Own Key tells how, after landing, he gave her “a quick kiss on the cheek and vanished into the morning rain”.
Although born in London, classical guitarist Liona grew up in Canada and was first introduced to the Queen and Prince Philip after performing at a private dinner at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 1977.
Some years later she posted him her CD and says she was “stunned” when he not only replied but continued responding to further letters she sent.
“He always wrote back right away,” Liona told us. “He was very prompt. I sent him poetry – he said my lyrics were brilliant. I was thrilled and never took it for granted.
“He became one of the most wonderful anchors of my life. I loved those trips to the post office.”
Liona, who has recorded 26 albums and worked with stars including Eric Clapton and Olivia Newton-John, found herself invited to royal events as the friendship blossomed.
She recalls sitting next to the Duke at a dinner for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Toronto in 1993.
Liona says: “The places were set and I didn’t have a fork, so he scampered off to the kitchen to get me one. You’d expect a page or someone to do that.
“The Nylons were playing, he sang along to The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
In her autobiography she calls Philip “a delightful dinner companion”.
She writes: “Was this really the Queen’s husband chuckling mischievously as he told me how, one night balancing on a wooden ‘loo’ outside in the rain, he was bitten by mosquitoes and blackflies on unmentionable body parts he’d neglected to spray?”
Liona also shared with us some of the letters Philip wrote to her.
She obscured some of his words to protect personal details.
In one, written in November 1993, Philip tells her: “Fundraising events are rarely unmitigated pleasure!! But your company at Ontorio Place [sic] made it a very happy evening for me”.
He also reached out to Liona after an earthquake hit California in 1994.
She says: “He sent a telegram saying he hoped our house was okay. It was so kind. I framed it.”
Two years later Liona had an invitation to perform at Windsor Castle and stay overnight with her then husband.
She wrote a song especially and Philip introduced her to the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.
Liona told us how she sneaked in a camera and summoned the “chutzpah” to ask for a photo with the Queen and Prince Philip during a tour of Henry VII’s armour.
Speaking from her home in Palm Beach, Florida, she tells how she often spritzes her letters to the Duke in French perfume and sent him “sweet” Valentine’s cards right up until this year, when lockdown prevented her.
In her second book, No Remedy for Love, she recalled how the Duke once “teased” her for using Beverley Hills stationery, telling her: “Get some new writing paper!”
Asking him once about artwork for an album, she says he “chuckled mischievously and suggested I wear three maple leaves and nothing else!”
But after asking him for a hug in Toronto to “thank him for all the years of letter-writing and friendship”, she told us how he instead “shook his head and kissed me on each cheek”.
Liona says the Duke “hand-typed, or hand-wrote all his letters in pretty good handwriting” – writing “Dear Liona” and signing off “Yours ever” or “Love, Philip”.
And she reveals: “He was insulted when I once asked if he dictated the letters. I always used to wonder how he had time to write to me.”
In a note sent from Sandringham in 2014, the Duke wrote: “The older I get, the quicker birthdays seem to come.” He signed it, “With love, Philip”.
In two letters in 2015 he detailed his excitement about VE Day celebrations and complimented Liona’s latest CD.
And in 2016 he confided in one letter that he “didn’t expect to live that much longer,” she said.
It prompted her to arrange a visit to Windsor Castle the following March, in which she played him guitar and says he gave her his blessing to mention their friendship in her books.
Liona, known in Canada as the “First Lady of Guitar”, told how she dedicated a song about horses to the Duke after he told her the animals are “some of my best friends”.
He also confided about the difficulties of royal life, telling her it “hasn’t always been easy and maybe it had ended his freedom,” she says.
Telling how she even sent the Duke postcards, she adds: “I think he lived vicariously through my adventures.”
Though he stopped sending physical letters a year ago, Liona says Philip’s most recent correspondence was an email in March via his private secretary “wishing my sister and I condolences on losing our mother”.
In her last letter on March 29, Liona told Philip she was “delighted” he was back home. Just 11 days later she learned of his death.
She says: “I had tears streaming down my face. I assume he never received my final letter. My heart goes out to the Queen.
“I will treasure his letters for the rest of my life.”
Liona admits she is still baffled by the friendship. She says: “For whatever reason, we clicked – perhaps our sense of humour or maybe because, though I always had great respect, I wasn’t shaking in awe around him. Over the years he gave me strength and made me feel appreciated. I shall miss him dearly.”