I wonder why Philip didn't go? Student stands in for Duke of Edinburgh in naked island ceremony
By Jim Mcbeth
Heaven only knows what Prince Philip would have made of his royal understudy – and the ceremonial 'dress'.
But then the Duke of Edinburgh wasn't there. Which is why gap year student Marc Rayner became a prince for a day to a remote tribe of South Pacific islanders.
The inhabitants of Tanna, in the Vanuatu islands, off the Australian coast, believe the Queen's husband is divine, the incarnation of a spirit who emerged from a volcano and left to marry a great lady.
Wish you were here: Marc Rayner with island chief Siko Nathuan holding the photo of Prince Philip
It was a cult which emerged from the prince's visit in 1974, and legend has it that the 'spirit' will one day return in person.
But on the day of the prince's 89th birthday in June, when the islanders gathered expecting his arrival, 18-year-old Marc realised they would be disappointed. So the teenager from Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, stood in for him.
Marc had been working on the island as a volunteer teacher during his gap year before beginning a sociology and anthropology degree at Edinburgh University. 'They are a wonderful people and I didn't want them to feel let down,' he said.
'I stepped in to explain that the prince's many responsibilities prevented him from visiting in person – but that he would one day rest in spirit on the island.'
Cult: Prince Philip has been held as a living God by the islanders of Tanna since he visited in 1974
Marc had to don the garment known as a nambas which passes in Pacific circles for formal dress.
Normally they wear only penis sheaths but for formal occasions they have a longer version which offers more modesty.
Living God: Marc was working on the island in the South Pacific as a volunteer teacher when he became a prince for the day
'I was embarrassed, but only for ten minutes,' said Marc.
'These people are so loving, they make you a part of their family. Adopting their dress proved that I was not just a tourist. I hope Buckingham Palace don't think I was trying to be Prince Philip – and I certainly wasn't acting as a "god".'
Divine: Marc admitted to initial embarrassment but soon warmed to his role - and his 'formal dress'
The unique moment was captured by an Australian TV crew.
BIRTH OF A DEITY
The Yaohnanen believe that Prince Philip is not only a living god but also the son of a mountain spirit.
Tribal lore said the living god travelled overseas and married a powerful woman but would eventually return.
Seeing the respect which British colonial officials afforded the Queen, the tribe concluded that her husband was their god some time in the 1950s or 1960s.
In 2007, five members of the Prince Philip Movement visited Britain for a Channel 4 documentary and had an audience with their god at Windsor Castle. He gave them a new picture of himself and the five returned to a heroes’ welcome.
The worship of Philip is one of the strangest examples of a cargo cult, a phenomenon that spread across the South Pacific as Polynesian islanders came into contact with westerners.
The tribal societies believed that the Western goods given to them – items such as tinned meat, usually dropped from cargo planes – were sent by the gods.
Reporter Amos Roberts said: 'It was amazing. The locals were waiting with their photographs of the prince, expecting him to appear.
'The islanders thought the prince's birthday was the date of a "second coming" and a party was organised in his honour.
'Instead they got an 18-year-old Scotsman.'
The Yaohnanen people of Tanna have revered the prince as the human incarnation of their ancestral spirit since he and the Queen visited in the Seventies.
When the prince was made aware of the 'cult' by the British resident commissioner in Vanuatu, he sent the islanders a signed photograph.
They responded with a nal-nal, a traditional club weapon.
In 2007 five inhabitants of Tanna had an audience with the prince after being brought to Britain by Channel 4 for a reality show called Meet The Natives.
Marc said: 'These people could teach us about life.
'Everyone is respected in their culture and I will return one day. They accepted me and they are now part of my family.'
Marc's efforts to console his new family were appreciated.
The island's chief, Siko Nathuan, said: 'The prince was here in spirit. He is shaking the ground. I am so happy.'
Paradise: The Vanuatu islands lie off the coast of Australia