The Crown: Who was Mike Parker, Prince Philip's closest confidant and right-hand man?

Everything you need to know about the Duke of Edinburgh's private secretary and closest confidant who features in season 2 of The Crown.

By BT.com Published: 29 January 2018 - 9.19am
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The Duke of Edinburgh is famed for his plain-speaking approach to life, so it’s fitting that Michael Parker, his closest confidant and for many years his private secretary, was also chairman of the Australian Plain English Society.

Commander Parker was an Australian who served alongside the future husband of the Queen in the Navy in World War Two and this shared experience bonded the pair for life, until Parker’s death aged 81 in 2002.

How did Mike Parker meet Prince Philip?

Dan Ings and Matt Smith in Netflix drama The Crown Netflix

Born in Melbourne in 1920, Parker was keen to follow his father into the Australian Navy, but as he was an officer and his son did not want to be accused of nepotism, he came to England, meeting the then Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, when the two served on the destroyer Wallace in 1942.

Parker was one year older than the prince. The pair were of the same rank – first lieutenant – but despite being rivals, they bonded during their time serving on convoy patrol down the east coast of Scotland and England, with Parker’s Australian directness proving a refreshing change for the future royal consort.

"The fact that he was a Prince didn't register with me,” Parker said later. “I gave him deference when it was official, but if it was not official then 'relax' was the order of the day."

Their bond remained strong even when they were on different shifts, and when in 1947 Prince Philip got engaged to the future Queen Elizabeth, Parker organised the stag do at the Dorchester Hotel and showed a cunning way of proving his loyalty to his friend.

Having allowed official photos to be taken, it was suggested a group photo be taken of the photographers, borrowing their cameras – and when they handed them over, on Parker’s signal the bulbs were smashed to ensure no unofficial photos were taken.

Dan Ings in a car during filming of The Crown Netflix

After the couple moved into Buckingham Palace, Parker busied himself updating their new home with innovations such as dishwashers and electric telephones. He was also a key member of Prince Philip’s weekly Thursday Club get-together at a private room in a Soho restaurant, a lively dining club which also featured the likes of actor David Niven and Peter Ustinov among its members.

"We enjoyed fun and going round with people who knew what was going on. The Thursday Club was a great sounding base, and the idea that it was a drunken orgy was absolute rubbish,” said Parker.

“People got very merry, but never drunk. As far as being wild, not guilty. As far as hanging around women, not guilty."

What happened during Prince Philip's Commonwealth tour of 1956?

Dan Ings and Matt Smith on a boat during filming of The Crown Netflix

Parker accompanied the prince aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia on a five-month world tour to Australia and some of the Commonwealth's most remote outposts in 1956. These events are portrayed in episodes 1-3 of the second series of The Crown.

Although the portrayal of subsequent events in The Crown - which show Parker resigning after sharing details of the tour with the Thursday Club and insinuations that he had an affair with a waitress - are fictional, his days in royal service were numbered after his first wife, Eileen, petitioned for divorce in early 1957. 

The resulting press attention saw him leave the Duke's service - and the tour - in Gibraltar in February 1957, despite reports that both the Duke and Queen were keen for him to continue in his role.

Their divorce was granted in 1958. Years later, Eileen wrote a book claiming Parker and the Duke used to sneak away from Buckingham Palace for nights on the town, calling themselves Murgatroyd and Winterbottom, a suggestion he described as "the biggest load of hogwash I've ever read in my life”.

What happened after Parker's divorce?

Michael Parker with Prince Philip Getty Images

Even when out of royal service, his connections and network served him well, as he pursued a career working for aircraft company Lockheed and advertising agency Leo Burnett amongst others, before returning to Australia in the late 1960s.

He remained close to the Duke, always starting and finishing letters, ‘Dear Philip; and, ‘Yours ever, Mike', with the pair last meeting a year before his death.

Married three times, Parker had two sons and two daughters. He was appointed a member of the Royal Victorian Order in 1953 and a Commander in 1957, before being appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 1995.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

Season 4 of The Crown is released on Netflix on Sunday, November 15.