Prince Philip spent years supporting a young paralysed carriage rider

The extraordinary story of how Prince Philip spent years supporting a young carriage rider who was paralysed after jumping into a swimming pool the day before they were due to race

  • Andrew Cowdery, then 21, hit his head during a swimming pool dive in 1984
  • Had been due to compete against Philip in carriage driving event in Windsor
  • Duke offered support to Andrew and family – and continued for over 25 years
  • Encouraged by the Duke, Andrew, who died in 2010, was able to rebuild his life 
  • Went on to enjoy a fulfilling and highly-regarded career writing about the sport

Andrew Cowdery, then 21, hit his head during a swimming pool dive in 1984, leaving him paralysed

Prince Philip spent years supporting a young man after he was paralysed in an accident the night before they were due to compete against each other in an equestrian event.

The tragedy happened in 1984 when Andrew Cowdery, then 21, had a life-changing accident after hitting his head during a swimming pool dive.

He had been due to compete against the Duke of Edinburgh in a carriage driving event at Windsor Great Park the following day but instead was fighting for his life in hospital.

When the Duke heard what had happened he immediately offered his extensive sympathy and support to Andrew and his family – and continued to do so for over 25 years.

Encouraged by the Duke, Andrew, who finally died in 2010, was able to rebuild his life after the accident and go on to enjoy a fulfilling and highly-regarded career writing about the sport that had brought them together.

The story emerged today, revealed by Andrew’s surviving sister Debbie – who at one point herself was so close to the Duke that she married his chauffeur.

Debbie, 55, told Mail Online how her family’s long and proud association with the Royal Family in general – and the Duke of Edinburgh in particular – started as far back as 1971.

Andrew had been due to compete against the Duke of Edinburgh in a carriage driving event at Windsor Great Park the day after his accident. Pictured: Philip doing the ‘marathon’, one of the three stages of carriage driving, driving a pony that Andrew’s sister Debbie’s family sold him

The story emerged today, revealed by Andrew’s surviving sister Debbie – who at one point herself was so close to the Duke that she married his chauffeur. Pictured: Philip watching carriage racing with Debbie in the background

Debbie, 55, told Mail Online how her family’s long and proud association with the Royal Family in general – and the Duke of Edinburgh in particular – started as far back as 1971. Pictured: Philip relaxing at carriage driving

That was when their father John Cowdery, left his army position in the Household Cavalry and took a job with the Royal household in Windsor.

He became a senior clerk and ‘buyer’ of Palace supplies – as well as developing an avid interest in horses and the then emerging equestrian sport of carriage driving. This was also becoming a growing obsession with Prince Phillip and it brought them together – which led to the tragedy in the scorching hot summer of 1984.

John’s youngest son, Andrew, then 21, was determined to become a carriage driving champion, had trained a team of horses to compete against the Duke in a Windsor event.

Debbie (pictured) explained that Philip’s love of Carriage Driving, a sport recognised by the International Equestrian Federation, had sprung from his prudent use of Royal resources

But the night before, he attended a friend’s birthday party in Princes Risborough and, in the dark, dived into their private swimming pool, mistaking the shallow end for the deep end.

He broke his neck and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, paralysed from the chest down.

His sister Debbie, then 19, and dating Prince Philip’s chauffeur at the time, 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.’

Following the accident, John gave up his job with the Royal Household and moved his family to south-west Scotland where they set up a horse and carriage business and deepened their involvement in the world of Carriage Driving.

Andrew became a highly respected writer and commentator on the sport and the whole family became firm favourites of Prince Philip or ‘PP’ as they referred to him. 

Andrew became a highly respected writer and commentator on the sport and the whole family became firm favourites of Prince Philip or ‘PP’ as they referred to him. Pictured: Prince Philip with a team of fell ponies that stopped to have a drink – much to the annoyance of the duke who was frustrated by the delay

Debbie, now 55, said: ‘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.’

That famous sense of humour intruded on many occasions over the years.

Philip would tease his chauffeur David Key about who he would be supporting at Carriage Driving events when he, Philip, would compete against Debbie, David’s girlfriend.

The couple married in 1988 and even earned a typically Philip-style mention in his 2004 book about Carriage Driving, ’30 Years on and off the box seat’.

‘His comment about our marriage was simply, ‘That didn’t last long’,’ laughed Debbie, ‘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.’

Debbie explained that Philip’s love of Carriage Driving, a sport recognised by the International Equestrian Federation, had sprung from his prudent use of Royal resources.

Philip would tease his chauffeur David Key about who he would be supporting at Carriage Driving events when he, Philip, would compete against Debbie, David’s girlfriend. Pictured: Debbie’s marriage to Philip’s chauffeur David in 1988

The Queen kept ponies on her Balmoral Estate, primarily for use in deer stalking – the ponies would carry home the deer on specially constructed saddles.

But some ponies were sensitive souls who didn’t like the work.

Debbie said: ‘Philip recognised that the ponies could also be used for carriage driving and while we still lived in Windsor, he gave us one of them, Balmoral Martin, to train because he didn’t like the smell of the kill.

‘Those early days with the Balmoral ponies could produce some very funny moments at events.

‘Prince Philip was an exceptional horseman, a keen competitor and liked to be treated as other competitors at events.

‘I remember when he was driving his Fell ponies at Lowther and they came to the water obstacle which are meant to be driven at the fastest speed possible but nobody had briefed HRH’s Fell ponies who naturally thought they would stop for a drink.

‘Prince Philip didn’t agree – and needless to say with his honest and frank approach the language was ‘ripe’!’

The family’s connection to Prince Philip deepened along with their involvement in the sport.

They sold Philip one of their home-grown ponies, Tynron Trumpeter, who the Prince described as one of his finest horses.

Andrew’s father John Cowdery, left his army position in the Household Cavalry (pictured left) and took a job with the Royal household in Windsor 

Following the accident, John gave up his job with the Royal Household and moved his family to south-west Scotland where they set up a horse and carriage business and deepened their involvement in the world of Carriage Driving. Pictured: John Cowdery and his wife Pat working on the horses at Balmoral

Meanwhile Debbie competed, her father became an international equestrian judge, her mother Pat was Chief Scorer before her death in 2013 and her brother Andrew commentator and all-round doyen of the sport until his death from a brain hemorrhage in 2010.

Debbie, who remarried as a Wicks and is a mother to three children, added: ‘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.’

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