Pickering-born artist recalls time spent with Prince Philip

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Pickering-born artist Christian Corbet shed tears the day Prince Philip died.

“I realized he had touched me in a way -- his character, his presence -- in a way that I have not felt by any other subject,” Corbet recalled in a phone interview.

Prince Philip died on Friday, April 9 at age 99 at Windsor Castle.

"I was sad," Corbet said. “You expect it because of the advanced age. He always told me he would never make it to 100. He said, ‘You better hurry up, you never know.."

The Duke of Edinburgh said this to Corbet as he photographed and sketched him for what would be the last official portrait of Prince Philip from live sittings in Buckingham Palace.

The pair kept in touch for many years afterwards, “through letter of course.”

Corbet was born at home in Pickering and eventually became a painter. In 1995, he painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother for her 95th birthday and was invited to present it to Clarence House, her home in London.

“When you get a royal nod, it means a lot to people,” he said.

In 1997, Corbet met sculptor Elizabeth Bradford Holbrook and she encouraged him to take on the art form.

Fast-forward to 2013, when the Royal Canadian Regiment asked him to sculpt a portrait of its colonel-in-chief, Prince Philip.

Corbet immediately said yes, but that he’d like a live sitting.

“Live sittings are very difficult to even approach, let alone get accepted,” he said.

After sending photos of his work, Corbet received a fax that his request was approved.

“That meant harnessing your excitement and thinking, ‘Boy, I better do a good job,” Corbet said.

He met Prince Philip for the first time in his office or ‘man cave’ at Buckingham Palace, a room filled with thousands of books and outfitted with mid-century modern furniture.

“We just sort of hit it off,” Corbet recalled.

He was in awe of being in the presence of someone who supports “the world’s most powerful and influential woman."

They talked freely about Prince Philip's uncle Lord Mountbatten, who was assassinated in 1979, and Corbet’s own connections to the Royal Family.

He described Prince Philip as relaxed.

“I have had a lot of people who were not as famous but were more uptight,” Corbet said.

They shared many laughs. Despite a 'no thank you' on Corbet's part, Prince Philip once shoved a handful of pistachios into Corbet’s pocket, something he described as “grandfatherly.”

“It was just a very warm exchange, it was a beautiful exchange," Corbet said.

Corbet was pleased to learn Prince Philip was supportive of the LGBQ community.

He once asked Corbet if he had a partner and what her name was.

“I said, his name is Dustin,” Corbet said. “(Prince Philips) said, ‘Well, you are an artist aren’t you? We laughed.”

They had several sittings, and in 2014, there was a public unveiling that Prince Philip could not attend as he was in hospital, but he made it to the second one in 2015.

“He looked to me, and said, ‘Congratulations. You’re the first person in North America to be inducted into the royal collection for a portrait bust,'” Corbet recalled.