For 29 years, it’s been the same tired, old dad joke.
‘I met Prince Philip once,’ I would tell people. ‘What did he say?’ they’d ask.
‘I could tell you,’ I’d say, ‘but then I’d have to kill you’.
That’s how it went down, the night I met the Queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh.
As we stood waiting in the reception room at Admiralty House, Kirribilli, gazing out across the most spectacular view of Sydney Harbour imaginable, we were given a crash course on the rules and regulations of meeting royalty.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (pictured above) waving to the crowds gathered upon their arrival at Adelaide Airport on Tuesday, February 25 in 1992
Mike Colman met Prince Phillip at Kirribilli House in Sydney back in 1992 at a function put on by the Governor-General
During the 1992 trip – marking Sydney’s 150th birthday – the Queen made her way to Royal Randwick for the staging of the Queen’s Cup – she is pictured with winning jockey Shane Dye (right)
Women were shown how to curtsey, the men told a dipping of the head was sufficient. The Queen was to be addressed as ‘Your Majesty’ at first and then ‘Ma’am’ thereafter, the Duke as ‘Sir’.
There could be no photos taken and, most crucially, under no circumstances was anything said by the royal couple to be repeated outside those four walls.
It is a royal decree that I have followed religiously ever since. Until now.
With the sad passing of the Duke of Edinburgh (or ‘Sir’, as I’ll always think of him) I figure the statute of limitations is over.
Colman was impressed by the Duke’s sense of duty to the monarchy following their 1992 meeting in Sydney
I had found myself amongst the small, select group of journalists invited by the comptroller to the Governor General (who, the invitation said, had been ‘commanded’ by Her Majesty to do so) for reasons I’m still not sure of.
I was a sports journalist, not a palace correspondent, and I hadn’t written so much as one word about the royal tour thus far.
I can only assume that my editor had applied for tour accreditation on my behalf months earlier on the off chance that the Queen and Duke might have wanted to sneak in a game of footy or a night at the boxing during their trip and I’d have to cover it.
Then, when the comptroller was pulling names at random off his accreditation list to make up the numbers for the royal media reception, I got lucky.
So there I was on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 19, 1992, all dressed up in my one suit, kissing my wife and baby daughter farewell and walking out the front door of our partially renovated fixer-upper to have a cup of tea with the Queen.
It was only when we had been lined up along one wall and the royal couple were entering the room that I smoothed down the sides of my suit coat and realised one of the baby’s dummies was in the pocket.
The Queen and Duke moved along the line shaking hands as we curtsied and bowed and then broke off into two pre-organised groups for a more informal interaction with one or the other of our royal hosts.
I got the Duke.
Queen Elizabeth II (pictured right) and husband Prince Philip left quite the impression after visiting Australia in 1992
Queen Elizabeth II, (pictured centre) opens the Parliament of New South Wales, at Parliament House, in Sydney on February 20, 1992, Prince Philip sits on her right.
It was like being seated at a wedding with the old uncles and aunties while all your mates are on the fun table.
The group surrounding Ma’am was chuckling and oohing and aahing as Her Majesty had them enthralled with humorous anecdotes and charming bon mots.
Our group on the other hand felt like we’d been called into the headmaster’s office after being caught pinching money from the tuck shop.
Things got off to a rocky start when someone tried to break the ice by telling Prince Philip that she was related to an old friend of his. The Duke’s reaction gave the impression that ‘friend’ was overstating the relationship somewhat.
Someone else made the mistake of asking if he was enjoying his trip to Australia.
‘How can I enjoy it?’ he said. ‘I don’t see anything, I don’t do anything. I just go from one official function to another. This isn’t enjoyment, it’s my job.’
The only noise breaking the awkward silence was a gale of laughter wafting across from the fun group on the other side of the room.
Mrs Dallas Hayden (pictured left), wife of Australia’s Governor General Bill Hayden, curtsies on meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1992
The ritzy Royal event Mike Colman attended in 1992 was at Admiralty House (stock image)
As a fan of the movie Roman Holiday in which newspaper reporter Gregory Peck takes princess Audrey Hepburn on an incognito tour of the Holy City, I couldn’t help myself.
‘I tell you what,’ I said. ‘I’ll meet you here tomorrow. We’ll put some old shorts and a big hat on you and I’ll take you down to Bondi Beach for fish and chips and a beer. No-one will know it’s you.’
Obviously he wasn’t a big Gregory Peck fan.
‘You must be joking,’ he snapped.
A few minutes later we were getting the wind-up signal, but there was one thing I had to ask before I let my only chance slip away.
This was 1992, a long time before The Crown, but in the years since Princess Diana had taken the world by storm there had been an influx of made-for-TV movies about the royal family, with actors of varying ability playing the major roles.
My wife and I had always wondered what it would be like for the Queen and Duke seeing other people playing them on the screen.
‘Do you think they watch?’ we’d ask.
I was determined to find out.
‘Sir,’ I asked the Duke. ‘Those movies where other people play you, do you watch them?’
‘Of course not,’ he said impatiently as he headed for the door.
The Duke and Queen Elizabeth II are a quick trip to the Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo, in central NSW, in 1992
Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh, pictured chatting to Aboriginal performers after watching a culture show at Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
We all stood there, rather stunned. The other group had been charmed. The Queen had totally won them over with her warmth and humour. The Duke provided us with another experience entirely.
It’s only now, almost 30 years and four series of The Crown later, that I can’t help feeling glad that I was in Sir’s group rather than Her Majesty’s.
He was right. There was nothing fun about what he was doing. A man of action, he had given up everything he had achieved and wanted to achieve, to support his wife and the monarchy.
And if that meant spending an afternoon with a bunch of colonial journalists asking inane questions, he would do it – but he drew the line at pretending he was enjoying it.
The Queen and Prince Phillip have made multiple trips to Australia as part of their royal duties – (pictured above in 2006 ahead of the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne)
Colman boldly asked Prince Phillip if he would like to take him up on an offer of fish and chips at Bondi Beach – he declined (stock image)
That is what I have taken away from that reception. An insight into a man who epitomised the word ‘duty’.
Oh, and I got something else as well.
As I went to leave opulent Admiralty House I ducked into the toilet off the reception room. There on the cistern was a small dish holding a packet of matches embossed with the royal crown.
I must say, it was a surreal feeling 10 minutes later standing on the platform at Milsons Point station waiting for the train that would take me back to reality.
My daughter’s dummy in one pocket, a packet of Her Majesty’s matches in the other.
Thanks for the memories Sir. It’s a pity you didn’t take me up on the fish and chips. I think you would have enjoyed it. I know I would have.