The death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, aged 99 on 9 April has resulted in a flurry of tributes and obituaries. But so far none of the extensive media coverage has mentioned the Duke’s lifelong interest in UFOs – or “flying saucers“.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet, is probably the best known British establishment figure who had publicly expressed his fascination with flying saucers and UFOs.
His interest reached its peak during the first wave of public interest in the subject, between 1950-55 and declined during his time as Chief of Defence Staff at MoD from 1959-63.
But Mountbatten shared his early fascination with with his nephew Prince Philip who served in the Royal Navy during WW2 and married Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He became Duke of Edinburgh in 1952 when his wife became Queen Elizabeth II following the death of King George VI.
During this time both men were subscribers to the magazine Flying Saucer Review and according to its editor Gordon Creighton since its inception in 1955 copies have been sent to Buckingham Palace.
RAF Air Marshal Sir Peter Horsley (1921-2001) who was equerry to the Duke from 1952–5 wrote that during this period, much like Mountbatten:
“Prince Philip was open to the immense possibilities of new technology leading to space exploration, while at the same time not discounting that, just as we were on the fringe of breaking out into space, so other older civilisations in the universe might already have done so.”
Horsley’s autobiography Sounds From Another Room (1998) reveals how reports of flying saucers were enthusiastically discussed at Buckingham Palace throughout his time as equerry.
In 2000 he told us that Prince Philip ‘agreed that I could investigate the more credible reports [of flying saucers] provided I kept it all in perspective and did not involve his office in any kind of publicity or sponsorship.’
As a result of his position in the RAF, Horsley was given ‘carte blanche to read any reports and interview pilots.’
He told us that he had arranged in 1952, with the Duke’s personal approval, for RAF Fighter Command to send copies of the latest ‘flying saucer’ reports made by aircrew for examination at Buckingham Palace.
During our meeting at his home in Hampshire he provided documentary evidence of his investigations, including papers from the informal study he conducted for Prince Philip. Horsley said the originals were now part of the Royal Archives.
Perhaps the strangest outcome of this inquiry was Peter Horsley’s role in inviting a number of flying saucer witnesses to discuss their experiences at Buckingham Palace.
These included the captain of a BOAC airliner, James Howard, who had reported, along with other crew members and passengers, a formation of UFOs while flying over the North Atlantic in June 1954. Another visitor was schoolboy Stephen Darbishire who had taken two photographs of a ‘saucer’ above Coniston in February of that year.
During our interview with Sir Peter Horsley, shortly before his death in 2001, he explained his reason for inviting UFO witnesses to the Palace was partly to ‘put them on the spot’ and test their honesty in the presence of royalty, a method as effective as any truth serum.
Sir Peter told us the sincerity of the RAF and civilian witnesses he interviewed was evident and this led him to conclude that UFOs were a real and unexplained phenomenon.
But he was less impressed by the burgeoning UFO movement and what he described as ‘the growing body of people promoting sightings for mercenary reasons or self-advertisement.’
Among these less than objective influences he included Desmond Leslie, who was on friendly terms with General Sir Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning. The General, who was the husband of author Daphne de Maurier, led the British airborne forces during the disastrous Operation Market Garden in 1943.
In retirement Browning became a private secretary to the Queen and like other former military officers became fascinated by flying saucers. But Browning went further than any other establishment figure by taking seriously the claims of those who said they had met the space people.
This situation came to a head in 1959 when a plot was hatched to engineer a meeting between Prince Philip and the famous Polish-American author and mystic George Adamski. Adamski had co-authored the 1953 best-seller Flying Saucers Have Landed with Desmond Leslie. The book contained his personal account of a meeting with the Venusian pilot of a ‘scout-ship’ that landed the Mojave Desert of California and communicated with Adamski by telepathy. According to his account the space people wished to warn us of the impending threat posed by nuclear weapons in future warfare.
Adamski’s message combined old-fashioned spiritualism with the new craze for seeing flying saucers and this appealed to many who feared for the future of planet Earth, including some members of European royalty.
In April of 1959 Adamski embarked on a European lecture tour that included an audience with the Dutch royal family. Shortly before the 68-year-old contactee arrived in London Desmond Leslie wrote to both Browning and the Duke, enclosing a personal invitation for them to meet Adamski, in strict secrecy if necessary.
The Duke immediately realised the danger this would place him in and he annotated Leslie’s letter with the words ‘Not on your Nellie!’ And in a note to Browning he added: ‘He may not be a crank but he’s a bit too fanciful for me!’ (Sir Peter Horsley, personal communication 2000).
Nevertheless both General Browning and Peter Horsley met Leslie and Adamski during his visit at a private address in London.
Horsley told us was not impressed by either. He felt that Desmond Leslie was ‘probably sincere but gullible, sucked into the saucer cult by people who hoped to profit from it such as Adamski’ and he warned Browning against having any further contact with them.
Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands also met Adamski and at a press conference in The Hague on 20 May when he made the bold claim that the British royal family were keen to meet him and that ‘Prince Philip so far has been the most interested.’
This summary is an extract from my 2007 book with Andy Roberts: Flying Saucerers: a social history of UFOlogy (Heart of Albion Press).
In 2017 I wrote to Prince Philip to ask if his ‘flying saucer’ file had been preserved in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. I said there was considerable public interest in its contents and in particular the private study of the subject, completed on the Duke’s behalf, by Peter Horsley in 1955.
On 27 June Prince Philip’s private secretary, Brigadier Archie Miller-Bakewell, responded, after a lengthy delay: “I am afraid that extensive searches have not yielded any papers that would be of help to your research. This letter comes with His Royal Highness’s best wishes.”
Text Copyright David Clarke & Andy Roberts 2007 and 2021