The right royal scandal that plagued screen star

Pat Kirkwood in her heyday.
Pat Kirkwood in her heyday.
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It was the scandal that would haunt Yorkshire stage and screen legend Pat Kirkwood until her dying days.

Now rumours of the star’s alleged affair with Prince Philip are set to be reignited as highly sensitive letters he wrote her are revealed in a controversial musical that is coming to Leeds.

The correspondence has been held until now by Royal biographer Michael Thornton, a beneficiary of the late actress’s will.

But excerpts will feature in the one-woman show Pat Kirkwood is Angry, which premieres at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre tomorrow before coming to Leeds Grand Theatre next Wednesday.

Acclaimed opera singer Jessica Walker, who wrote and stars in the play, said: “I am not using Prince Philip’s letters for sensational reasons, but the inescapable fact is Miss Kirkwood’s meeting with the Queen’s husband, which was not sought by herself, ruined her life and robbed her of official recognition for an outstanding career – so these letters are crucial to understanding her life and character.” Hailed as the last great star from the golden age of British musicals, Miss Kirkwood, who lived in the Yorkshire Dales and later Bingley, was the highest-paid entertainer in Britain in the 1940s.

But after an encounter with the Prince in 1948, she was plagued for almost 60 years by allegations of an illicit romance.

The pair, then both 27, were introduced in her dressing room at the London Hippodrome and went on to dine together at a Mayfair restaurant before dancing the night away, cheek to cheek, at a West End nightclub.

Six further meetings followed, and the alleged romance made headlines worldwide. The scandal is believed to have cost Miss Kirkwood her chance of an MBE and she passed away in relative obscurity in 2007 in an Ilkley nursing home, aged 86.

Miss Walker said: “It was as if she was almost written out of the history books because she was an inconvenience in some way. Personally, I don’t think they did have an affair but I’ll leave that to the audience to decide.”

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Bar review: The Wardrobe, St Peter’s Square, Leeds