Wensleydale musical draws on Royal scandal from 64 years ago

Darlington and Stockton Times: Pat Kirkwood Pat Kirkwood

EXTRACTS from “sensitive” letters between Prince Philip and an actress he is alleged to have had an affair with are to feature in a controversial musical opening tonight.

The play, Pat Kirkwood is Angry, dramatises the life of the stage and screen star who settled in a Wensleydale village, only to be pursued by national journalists wanting details about her relationship with the Duke of Edinburgh.

Miss Kirkwood created leading roles in West End musicals written by Cole Porter, Noël Coward and Leonard Bernstein and was the first woman to have her own television series on the BBC.

She was haunted for nearly 60 years over allegations she had breakfast with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1948 after spending a night “dancing cheek-to-cheek”, when they were both 27 and the Queen was eight months pregnant with Prince Charles.

Although she admitted dancing and breakfasting with Prince Philip, Miss Kirkwood always emphatically denied any suggestion of an affair.

Seven meetings between the pair created worldwide headlines and the scandal is believed to have cost Miss Kirkwood, who died in 2007 at the age of 86, her chance of recognition in the Honours list.

HAUNTED: Pat Kirkwood and, right, Jessica Walker, author and star of the stage show MONTHS LATER: Prince Philip and the Queen with baby Charles By Stuart Minting stuart.minting@nne.co.uk While living in a Victorian house overlooking the green in West Burton in 1993, Miss Kirkwood complained in a letter to the prince that with some support “the matter could have been squashed years ago instead of [me] having to battle a sea of sharks single-handed”.

Prince Philip replied: “Short of starting libel proceedings, there is absolutely nothing to be done. After nearly 40 years of such treatment, I am more or less hardened to this sort of thing.”

A year later, after being hounded by journalists in the North Yorkshire village, her husband, Peter Knight, met Prince Philip’s aide, who it is claimed urged Miss Kirkwood not to sue the newspapers to avoid the prince being called to court as a witness.

The biographical play, written by and starring opera singer Jessica Walker, dramatises how she endured the rumours and tells of her fury with Buckingham Palace for not protecting her from the scandal.

Miss Walker said: “I am not using Prince Philip’s letters for sensational reasons.

“The inescapable fact is Miss Kirkwood’s meeting with the Queen’s husband, which was not sought by herself, actually ruined her life and robbed her of official recognition for an outstanding career.”

The letters that passed between the pair are now in the possession of royal biographer Michael Thornton, who Miss Kirkwood instructed to hand them to the Duke’s official biographer after his death.

The play, financed by Opera North, opens tomorrow at Leeds Grand Theatre, before moving to London in the New Year and Broadway in 2014.

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