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Prince Philip befriended disabled carriage rider

prince philip and Andrew Cowdery carriage racing
prince philip and Andrew Cowdery carriage racing Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Prince Philip would often make headlines for the wrong reasons, making the odd controversial comment which portrayed him in a negative light, but the friendship he had between a budding horse-rider tells a different story.

In 1984 Andrew Cowdery was involved in a serious accident, after a head injury diving in to a swimming pool he was rushed to hospital.

He was due to compete in a carriage driving event the next day, his opposition being the Duke of Edinburgh, but instead he was fighting for his life.

Hearing about Andrew’s accident Prince Philip formed a friendship with the injured sportsman and his family, a bond which lasted for over 25 years.

With moral support from the Duke, Andrew managed to regain his confidence, going on to write about their companionship and the support he was offered from the royal.

Andrew passed away in 2010, but his surviving sister Debbie, 55, lives to tell the tale.

She told Mail Online how Andrew’s friendship with Prince Philip was formed in 1971 when their father John Cowdery took a job as a senior clerk for the Royal Family in Windsor.

As well as purchasing supplies for the Palace John had an extensive interest in horses and carriage driving which attracted the attention of Prince Philip.

John’s youngest son, Andrew had set his sights on being a successful carriage champion and one day competing against the Duke himself.

At the age of 21 Andrew was about to achieve his goal, he had been selected to participate in a competition against Prince Philip, but the night before tragedy struck.

He attended a friend’s party where he mistook the shallow end of a swimming pool as deep water, he dived in, breaking his neck.

The accident left him paralysed from the chest down and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Debbie was 19 at the time and dating Prince Philip’s chauffeur.

She said: 'Andrew was conscious throughout it all and he begged our father to take the horses he'd trained to compete at Windsor the next day. He was determined not to let down those who had sponsored him.

'Dad did go and the Duke, who had heard about the accident, and made a point of speaking with my father at length.

'I was there when he came over. He wanted to know exactly what had happened, how Andrew was etc.

'The news of Andrew's accident travelled throughout the Royal Family and Prince Charles also sent my father a telegram.

‘The Royal family are much maligned by those that don't really know them but I will never forget their compassion and caring through this difficult period in our lives.'

Debbie, now 55, continued: 'My brother had an unrivalled knowledge of the people and personalities within the sport, of which, of course Prince Philip was the highest profile.

'Prince Philip had a huge respect for Andrew and would always make a point of chatting with him at events. He called him a Carriage Driving Professional.

'Even after Andrew's accident, I don't think he ever saw Andrew as a man in a wheelchair. Prince Philip just saw PEOPLE - not abilities, capabilities or disabilities and he was a joy to speak with - funny, honest, respectful to everyone - and with a wicked sense of humour.'

Debbie married the Duke’s chauffeur, David Key, in 1988. Joking about the couple tying the knot so soon Prince Philip made a witty comment in his book on Carriage Driving, ’30 Years on and off the box set’.

'His comment about our marriage was simply, 'That didn't last long',' Debbie recalled, 'and it is true. We had been together for six years before we married but then we found ourselves living at opposite ends of the country and it petered out harmoniously enough.'

Speaking about the sad death of Prince Philp, Debbie said: 'It has been a huge privilege to be involved in the world of Carriage Driving which is like a big family and it also allowed us to become friends with Philip, or PP as we called him.

'Prince Philip was key and instrumental in setting up the sport of competitive carriage driving and for this the whole carriage driving world owe him a debt of gratitude.

'It was something he did on his own most of the time but the Queen is also passionate about her horses and she'd always be among the spectators when events were held in Windsor Great Park which is like her back garden.

'He will be sadly missed and I can only hope that his granddaughter (Prince Edward's daughter Louise) who has been seen out carriage driving, continues in his footsteps.

'Over the years he showed his true character to our family and we are forever in his debt not just for the kindness he showed us during our most difficult time but also the laughter he gave us so readily over the years.'

You can read our tribute to Prince Philip on our special article published last week.