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Prince Philip’s love of racy London society found him vulnerable to Russian spies, series reveals

The close ties between royalty and the security services are the subject of a compelling new book serialised in the Mail this week. 

Yesterday, we revealed how Charles and Diana evaded their minders to pursue illicit affairs. 

Today, we describe how the Soviets tried to get their hooks into Prince Philip and the Royal Family

When the handsome and debonair Prince Philip of Denmark and Greece became a suitor for the young Princess Elizabeth, her father, King George VI, let loose the spies on him, ordering Special Branch to prepare a secret dossier on his background, loyalty and politics. 

Were there any skeletons in his cupboard to make marriage a risk?

Discreet surveillance took place, providing the King with an insight into his putative son-in-law’s habits and personal life — his messy rooms, coarse language and late-night drinking.

Meanwhile, Jock Colville, the Princess’s private secretary, apparently warned George that Philip was ‘unlikely to be faithful’. 

Tommy Lascelles, the King’s own private secretary, agreed, adding that Philip was ‘rough’ and ‘uneducated’.

A more serious impediment was the detail on Philip’s three sisters, Sophie, Cecilie and Margarita, and their Nazi connections.

Cecilie, along with her husband, the Grand Duke of Hesse, was a member of the party. There was even photographic evidence of 16-year-old Philip walking alongside Nazi officials back in 1937.

Given the lingering worries surrounding the pro-Nazi sympathies of the Duke of Windsor, the King’s abdicated brother, and the repellent revelations about the Third Reich that continued to emerge in the months after the war, Philip looked like a scandal in waiting that the King could well do without.

The Queen Mother (the Queen, as she was then) referred to Philip as ‘the Hun’ and tried to set up her daughter with other eligible bachelors. 

Her brother, David Bowes-Lyon, who had served in the wartime Political Warfare Executive, was strongly opposed to the relationship, detecting a certain ‘un-Britishness’ in Philip.

When the handsome and debonair Prince Philip of Denmark and Greece became a suitor for the young Princess Elizabeth (pictured together), her father, King George VI, let loose the spies on him, ordering Special Branch to prepare a secret dossier on his background, loyalty and politics

Although on the surface his German ties looked alarming, Philip thought of himself as primarily Danish. 

More importantly, he enjoyed a splendid war record serving as Lt Philip Mountbatten in the Royal Navy.

Ironically, it was his youthful socialist leanings that frustrated his future in-laws more than any supposed Nazi sympathies.

On more than one occasion, he had to apologise to the Queen for starting heated discussions and begged her not to think him ‘violently argumentative and an exponent of socialism’.

Eventually, the suitably vetted Philip received royal — and government — approval to marry Elizabeth, and the wedding was set for November 1947. His sisters did not receive an invitation.

More concerns about Philip surfaced in the decade after his marriage, with some inside government and the palace worried about his behaviour.

In 1956, the palace was forced to put out an unprecedented denial that the royal marriage was on the rocks following Philip’s lengthy solo tour to Melbourne, where he had opened the Olympic Games.

Back here, officials were concerned by intelligence reports that he and his equerry, Mike Parker, gallivanted flirtatiously around London’s clubs and risked causing embarrassment to the Queen.

This was about more than marriage. Philip risked opening himself up to Soviet blackmail.

He was a member of the notorious Thursday Club, which met in Soho every week for boozy lunches, sometimes stretching long into the night. 

Members included controversial spy-turned-writer Compton Mackenzie, the witty actor David Niven, and Stephen Ward, the infamous society osteopath at the heart of the Profumo affair.

The Thursday Club brought the Royal Family dangerously close to the toxic Profumo scandal in 1963.

John Profumo, Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, famously denied having sexual relations with a 19-year-old model, Christine Keeler. 

Discreet surveillance took place, providing the King with an insight into Philip's putative son-in-law's habits and personal life — his messy rooms, coarse language and late-night drinking. (Pictured left to right: Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mrs C.J. Latta, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and American opera singer Dorothy Kirsten enjoying an after dinner joke at a Variety Club of Great Britain benefit for the National Playing Fields Association, at the Empress Club, London, December 1951)

Discreet surveillance took place, providing the King with an insight into Philip’s putative son-in-law’s habits and personal life — his messy rooms, coarse language and late-night drinking. (Pictured left to right: Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mrs C.J. Latta, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and American opera singer Dorothy Kirsten enjoying an after dinner joke at a Variety Club of Great Britain benefit for the National Playing Fields Association, at the Empress Club, London, December 1951)

As rumours swirled, he defiantly stood up in the House of Commons to threaten writs for libel and slander against anyone making allegations of impropriety.

At the heart of the whole scandal was Stephen Ward, who seemed to know everyone in London worth knowing. As well as having plenty of mutual friends, Philip had known Ward personally for quite some time.

He had attended parties thrown by Ward back in the late-1940s, and had stayed in touch through the 1950s. Ward was also an accomplished portrait painter and Philip sat for him in spring 1961.

In June 1963, the FBI reported that Philip was involved in the Profumo affair, but did not say exactly how.

Ward was a complex character. He mixed with the highest in society and was a determined social climber whose main weapon, it was said, was his connections.

One of these was Captain Eugene Ivanov, a Soviet intelligence officer ostensibly working as an assistant naval attaché at the embassy in London. 

He was friends with Ward, but also enjoyed sexual relations with Keeler. It was Ivanov’s involvement which turned a society sex scandal into a security affair.

Keeler explained the chain of events precisely: ‘If I hadn’t gone to bed with Yevgeny [Eugene] it is very likely that my love affair with Profumo would never have developed overtones of treason. 

‘Macmillan’s government might not have been rocked to its socks. Stephen Ward [who committed suicide during his trial on vice charges] would never have killed himself.’

Given the security paranoia that the Profumo affair eventually triggered, it is truly remarkable how smoothly Ivanov swam in the higher echelons of society in early-1960s Britain — whizzing round London, sometimes at the wheel of a Rolls-Royce borrowed from a friend, or weekending at Cliveden with the Astors,

He was also deeply interested in the royals, especially Philip, and believed that the connection between Ward and the Royal Family was valuable.

In his memoirs, Ivanov recalled Ward showing him a photo album in which there were pictures of Philip and his cousin David — the Marquess of Milford Haven — at a club with a number of girls.

Prince Philip was a member of the notorious Thursday Club, which met in Soho every week for boozy lunches, sometimes stretching long into the night.

Prince Philip was a member of the notorious Thursday Club, which met in Soho every week for boozy lunches, sometimes stretching long into the night.

Ivanov thought about stealing the photographs while Ward had his back turned, but, thinking better of it, produced his Minox camera and photographed five or six snapshots.

Later he recalled: ‘I sent the photographs and my report to Moscow Centre.’

All this was part of a wider Russian operation targeting the whole Royal Family, called Operation House.

MI5 knew that the Russians were spying on the royals and that Ivanov had sent various society titbits, supposedly including photographs, back to his headquarters in Russia.

Neither Ivanov nor his colleagues ever used the compromising information to try to blackmail the Royal Family, however. 

This, according to one senior MI5 officer, was because Soviet intelligence decided it was fake.

How did MI5 know all this? It appears that the security service had an agent at the very centre of Ward’s flamboyant social circle. 

This was Mariella Novotny, aka ‘Miss Kinky’. Keeler confidently believed she was ‘an informant’ for both the police and MI5.

During his official inquiry into the scandal, judge Lord Denning interviewed her at length but, for this reason, completely airbrushed her from his report.

The other reason that Novotny vanished is that she most likely had a relationship with the notoriously libidinous U.S. President John F. Kennedy. 

This connection set the nerves of the White House jangling and waves of FBI officers were despatched to London and New York to uncover any stories of espionage or scandal.

They were ordered to keep it close to their chests and only ‘personally advise the president’ of anything they found.

Novotny continued to work for the authorities for two decades and died in curious circumstances in 1983, shortly before the scheduled publishing of a personal memoir. The book has never been published.

Apart from Profumo and Prince Philip, high on Ivanov’s list of targets to garner intelligence from were Princess Margaret and her husband Antony Armstrong-Jones. 

He was introduced to them by Ward, ‘who also equipped me [Ivanov] with certain details about their life’, which were available to him because ‘he loved gossip and had known the Royal Family for years’.

This connection, he added darkly, ‘held out the possibility of getting information through provocation and blackmail’.

Ivanov met Margaret on numerous occasions, hoping to elicit some scandalous information. He even attended the reception that followed her wedding to Armstrong-Jones, and then spent time with them at Ascot and the Henley Regatta.

He recalled chatting to her on a voyage along the Thames and then returning to Ward and trading royal gossip.

Unfortunately for Ivanov, blackmail was hardly possible, since he soon found himself in hopeless competition with the newspapers. Rumours detailing Margaret’s personal life were rarely out of the Press.

But Ivanov was apparently not the only one targeting Margaret. An unnamed senior officer from Soviet military intelligence later claimed that one of her butlers, Thomas Cronin, was actually a Russian agent codenamed Rab. He apparently fed maps of state rooms and royal gossip back to Moscow.

In April 1963, the Profumo scandal broke and Ivanov fled back to Moscow, escaping what was possibly a honey-trap operation that was about to envelop him.

Meanwhile, investigative reporters from the Sunday Times stumbled upon the royal dimension. They were interviewing the painter Feliks Topolski, a friend of Ward’s, when Philip’s name came up.

Four years earlier, Philip had commissioned Topolski to paint a huge mural commemorating Elizabeth’s coronation, to be hung in the state apartments at Buckingham Palace. Now, after mentioning Philip’s name in relation to the Profumo affair, Topolski quickly dried up.

Philip had commissioned Topolski to paint a huge mural commemorating Elizabeth's coronation, to be hung in the state apartments at Buckingham Palace (pictured together)

Philip had commissioned Topolski to paint a huge mural commemorating Elizabeth’s coronation, to be hung in the state apartments at Buckingham Palace (pictured together)

Soon afterwards, a certain ‘Mr Shaw’, from MI5, telephoned one of the reporters and asked them to meet him in a hotel near St James’s Park Tube station. There, Shaw specifically wanted to know what Topolski had said about Prince Philip.

The journalists explained that they were investigating political cover-ups and the consequences for Macmillan’s faltering government.

The Philip angle, tantalising as it may be, was irrelevant. Shaw seemed relieved, leaving the journalists suspicious that MI5 had a special team to protect the Royal Family’s interests.

The Queen, via her red boxes, the Press and her connections, knew about the Profumo affair as it unfolded. She refused to blame the beleaguered minister and remained on good terms with him as he publicly devoted his later life to charity work.

However, it appears he rather enjoyed his notoriety. At a dinner party thrown in his honour by the Queen Mother, he propositioned a teenage girl, using the most direct language. The Queen Mother still lunched with Profumo as late as 2000.

As for Prince Philip, there is one further mystery. Rumour has it that a discreet mission was launched to purchase an embarrassing portrait of Prince Philip drawn by Stephen Ward.

And the person sent to retrieve it? It was said to be none other than Anthony Blunt, who had carried out similar errands to repatriate sensitive material for the Royal Family in the past, while working undercover as a Soviet spy.

A teenage assistant to Ward, who later became a Labour MP, recalls only that ‘a member of the Royal Household’ bought the picture for cash, ‘no questions asked’.

Adapted from THE SECRET ROYALS: SPYING AND THE CROWN, FROM VICTORIA TO DIANA, by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac

Andrew laid bare by Wikileaks

The arms trade is a shady and often unspoken area where royals, the secret services and the SAS come together. 

Sultans and sheiks from Bahrain to Brunei queued up to have their bodyguards advised by the men in black balaclavas from Hereford, while British Intelligence has long been used in support of British-based private commerce to provide information on the negotiating positions of rival manufacturers.

The member of the Royal Family closest to this curious world was Prince Andrew. 

More than anyone else, he had enjoyed a serious military career of 22 years, serving as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War. 

This gave him an insight into military technology, including both advanced naval ships and aviation.

When he left the Navy, he became an ambassador for British trade, with military technology always high on his list of priorities.

In late October 2008, the American ambassador to the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan was offered a surprising glimpse of his activities after a business brunch there which the Prince attended. 

More than anyone else, Prince Andrew (pictured) had enjoyed a serious military career of 22 years, serving as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War. This gave him an insight into military technology, including both advanced naval ships and aviation

More than anyone else, Prince Andrew (pictured) had enjoyed a serious military career of 22 years, serving as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War. This gave him an insight into military technology, including both advanced naval ships and aviation

She reported back to Washington on Andrew’s comments, which she found ‘astonishingly candid’, adding that the discussion at times verged on ‘the rude’.

As Andrew fielded questions, he was reportedly ‘super-engaged’ and then, addressing the ambassador directly, stated frankly that Britain was ‘back in the thick of playing the Great Game’. 

Now rather animated, he added cheekily: ‘And this time we aim to win!’

Andrew next turned his fire on the Serious Fraud Office. He ripped into its investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, reportedly worth some £40 billion.

The ambassador explained to Washington that the Prince ‘was referencing an investigation, subsequently closed, into alleged kick-backs a senior Saudi royal had received in exchange for the multi-year, lucrative BAE Systems contract to provide equipment and training to Saudi security forces’.

Andrew then went on to attack ‘those [expletive] journalists’, especially from the Guardian, ‘who poke their noses everywhere’ and made it harder for British businessmen to do business.

Andrew’s salty comments surfaced shortly afterwards when the ambassador’s cable was released by WikiLeaks. 

But the security services’ fears over him have now shifted to blackmail vulnerabilities over his friendship with the late billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

He strenuously denies knowledge of, or involvement in, Epstein’s activities but his friendship has created a potential counter-intelligence risk, with fears apparently that Russia could link Andrew to the abuse, thereby creating a blackmail — or ‘leverage’ — possibility. 

Security officials have since reviewed the security of the Prince’s internet and phone connections in case of bugging. 

The Queen Mother’s loo, crown included…

Princess Elizabeth enjoyed travel and, in 1952, she and Philip departed on a Royal Tour of Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

They arrived at the famous Treetops Hotel and game lookout deep inside the Kenyan forest to watch elephants, leopards and baboons, just as a violent rebellion was beginning not far away, with arson attacks by Mau Mau rebels against European settlers.

The situation was so volatile that her Special Branch protection officer, Ian Henderson, had considered cancelling the African leg of the tour because he could not guarantee her safety.

It had gone ahead anyway and it was here that the news came from London that her father had died. Now Queen, she headed home immediately.

Shortly afterwards, somebody went inside Treetops and stole a souvenir: a royal toilet seat. They painted, ‘GUESS WHO SAT ON HERE?’ around the rim and then placed it over their neck, before parading around a drunken party in Nairobi.

Although a hit at the party, colonial officials were horrified. Orders came down from on high that there was to be no repetition.

The Queen Mother's lady-in-waiting, Lady Patricia Hambleden, recalled that 'special loos' were constructed for their exclusive use in the most remote locations (Pictured: The Queen Mother leaves King Edward VII Hospital after her hip replacement operation in 1995)

The Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Patricia Hambleden, recalled that ‘special loos’ were constructed for their exclusive use in the most remote locations (Pictured: The Queen Mother leaves King Edward VII Hospital after her hip replacement operation in 1995)

So when the Queen Mother visited Treetops seven years later and picnicked beside a waterfall in the jungle, the special forces captain in charge of protecting the party was surprised to be given an order from the palace to gather up all the toilets and wash basins used by the royals and to ‘destroy them’.

He even had to ‘submit a destruction certificate to prove this had been done’, especially the lavatory seats.

It seemed to him a rather mysterious task for a crack special forces unit, but royal lavatory seats in Africa were a serious business.

The Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Patricia Hambleden, recalled that ‘special loos’ were constructed for their exclusive use in the most remote locations.

The Queen Mother’s had a crown on it, while her attendants sat on facilities that were not quite so regal.

The close ties between royalty and the security services are the subject of a compelling new book serialised in the Mail this week. Yesterday, we revealed how Charles and Diana evaded their minders to pursue illicit affairs. Today, we describe how the Soviets tried to get their hooks into Prince Philip and the Royal Family.


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