The Duke of Edinburgh was the person to whom the Queen could “unburden herself”, Sir John Major has said.
Being head of state is “a very lonely position in many ways”, with a limited number of people available for the Queen to speak frankly with, the former prime minister said.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Sir John said the duke offered the Queen “great support” during their 73 years of marriage, and his death will leave “an enormous hole” in her life.
He said: “Consider the position the Queen is in. She is the head of state, that is a very lonely position in many ways.
“There are a limited number of people to whom she can really open her heart, to whom she can really speak with total frankness, to whom she can say things that would be reported by other people and thought to be indelicate.
“Of the handful of people to whom she can speak frankly, her husband, Prince Philip, was obviously the first one.
“At times of difficulty, he was the person who was there, he was the person to whom she could unburden herself.
“And when you’re facing a sea of problems, as she so often was, and sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by what has to be done, someone who understands that, someone that can take part of the burden, someone who can share the decision-making, someone who can metaphorically – or in the case of Prince Philip, I think, probably literally – put their arms around you and say ‘it’s not as bad as you think, this is what we have to do, this is how we can do it, this is what I think’ – I think when you talk of him being a great support, that was it.”
Sir John said he hopes the Queen will be given time and space following Philip’s death.
He said: “The Queen and Prince Philip had 73 years of marriage together. That is extraordinary, I can think of no-one else who’s had a marriage for that length, in my experience. So it will be an enormous hole in her life that suddenly Prince Philip isn’t there.
“How will the Queen manage? Well, I think there are several things to say about that. Firstly, I hope she will given some time and space.
“I know she is the monarch, I know she has responsibilities, but she has earned the right to have a period of privacy in which to grieve with her family.
“After that… Prince Philip may physically have gone, but (he) will be in the Queen’s mind as clearly as if she were sitting opposite him.
“She will hear his voice metaphorically in her ear, she will know what he will say in certain circumstances, he will still be there in her memory.”