'I like costumes. I am always dressing up – I’m very English like that.'
April 11, 2021 – Lou Doillon


A diary most often records the ebb and flow of ordinary life. Nevertheless, it cannot help but collide with great events that burst upon our lives, wanted or unwanted. Friday, April 9, 2021 became one of those unwanted dates with the passing of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His character had apparent contradictions: a man who did not suffer fools gladly but who was capable of great sensitivity; a person who could put foot in mouth and yet who was always surrounded by people laughing and at ease; someone who put great store by self-reliance and inner strength yet who would take the trouble to play peek-a-boo with a shy youngster hiding behind his mother’s skirts whilst his sister presented flowers to the Queen.

It was, however, in the field of costume that potential contradictions were most apparent. Prince Philip was well-known from his earliest days as being intolerant of royal stuffiness. He shone a powerful light in powdered and bewigged corners and modernised the functioning of the monarchy, and yet when formally attired either in civilian clothes or uniforms his dress was immaculate. Not only that; throughout his life he stood straight as a ramrod and walked hands behind back.

He had an insatiable curiosity about everyone and everything. Any organisation to which he belonged received his complete attention. A club of which he was Royal Patron has an unspoken rule that its ties are not washed or laundered for some inexplicable reason. When he visited it, he too had a dubious tie at the ready.

When I started as a barrister, silks went into mourning when the Court (of St James’) did. The death of a Hapsburg princess or a Scandinavian prince, let alone a foreign monarch or consort, was enough for Queen’s Counsel to rush to find the necessary gear. In the early eighties, I was being led by FRW Hobson QC – called Jimmy for some reason – when an elderly Spanish princess expired. Mr Justice Brierley-White, a champion sprinter at Cambridge, showed he had lost nothing of his youthful speed as he shot off the bench when his clerk delivered the news. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I shall rise until tomorrow morning for the usual adjustments to be made.’

Jimmy was in a terrible flap. He explained to me that for silks, ordinary neck bands had to be removed and replaced by mourning bands which have a double pleat running down the middle of each wing. He seemed very distracted. ‘And my Weepers, where are my Weepers?’ I discovered that Weepers were pieces of white cloth that went around the cuffs of the silk’s jacket or tailcoat, obscuring the buttons. Jimmy always wore a rather lovely silk gown. That apparently had now to be exchanged for a stuff version: nothing fancy. I had a question: ‘Do I have to change anything?’ Jimmy looked at me with puzzlement. ‘You? It doesn’t really matter about you. You might wear mourning bands, I suppose.’ Then he suddenly looked at me more closely with disapproval: ‘I would certainly change that chalked striped suit you are wearing and put on a plain black one.’

I was sent off to find Jimmy’s Weepers from a suitcase in his Chambers. They were far from white and looked dirty, dusty and grey and I wished I was wearing gloves. His clerks gave me a tin of Dorcas pins. Next morning, I spent an anxious time trying to attach them to Jimmy’s tailcoat cuffs while he kept moving his arms. I had popped into a well-known legal outfitters before court and purchased my own set of mourning bands. They produced a gale of laughter in the robing room. However, as we went into court, we all felt different and solemn. All for a lady I had never heard of before her death.

I was telling this story to Paddy Corkhill in a freezing cold park yesterday where we met for a coffee and a nip from Paddy’s hip flask. ‘Are you wearing Weepers for the Duke?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Indeed, I doubt we will ever wear them again if we are not wearing them for him. I suppose everything goes in the end.’ ‘Yes,’ said Paddy, ‘but if Weepers are thought redundant, why not silks’ robes? Why not wigs? Why not silks altogether? Why not barristers? Costumes mean something. That’s why we wear them. If we stop, the meaning goes too and, in the end, so does the office they represent.’ I shivered in the cold. I think Prince Philip might have thought much the same thing.