The Queen’s con­stant strength

A look at Bri­tain’s old­est and the longest-serv­ing con­sort, who has just re­tired.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People -

DUR­ING al­most 70 years at Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s side, Prince Philip has com­bined a strong sense of duty with pub­lic pop­u­lar­ity and a propen­sity for gaffes.

The 96-year-old Duke of Ed­in­burgh, his of­fi­cial ti­tle, is the old­est and the longest-serv­ing con­sort in Bri­tish his­tory, de­scribed by the queen as her "con­stant strength and guide."

As a young princess, El­iz­a­beth was smit­ten with the dash­ing cadet cap­tain from the minute she first set eyes on him at the Royal Naval Col­lege in 1939, when she was just 13.

A year later, Philip be­gan his distin­guished wartime ser­vice in the Royal Navy, which in­cluded par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bat­tle of Crete and the Al­lied land­ings on Si­cily, and cul­mi­nat­ing in his wit­ness­ing the Ja­panese sur­ren­der in Tokyo Bay in Septem­ber 1945.

The cou­ple mar­ried on Nov 20, 1947, and the wed­ding was hailed by then prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill as a “flash of colour on the hard road we travel,” de­spite the re­sent­ment that the prince’s Ger­man an­ces­try had pro­voked.

Philip was born a prince of Greece and Den­mark on June 10, 1921, on the is­land of Corfu, the only son of Prince An­drew of Greece and Ger­many's Princess Alice of Bat­ten­berg.

But his fam­ily, who also had Dutch and Rus­sian an­ces­try, were forced to flee just a year later when the monar­chy was over­thrown, with his father nar­rowly es­cap­ing ex­e­cu­tion.

Philip was sent to board­ing schools in Ger­many and Scot­land, and spent hol­i­days ro­tat­ing among rel­a­tives’ houses.

But he had no self pity – “What do you mean ‘at home’? You get on with it. You do. One does," he told one in­ter­viewer who asked him about his child­hood.

On his mar­riage to the queen, which came about de­spite the mis­giv­ings of her mother, Queen El­iz­a­beth, he adopted the Angli­cised name of Mount­bat­ten, re­nounced his other royal ti­tles and be­came a nat­u­ralised Bri­tish sub­ject.

El­iz­a­beth’s as­cen­sion to the throne also meant that Philip’s naval ca­reer was as good as over.

The royal re­la­tion­ship was re­ported to have had its ups and downs, with ru­moured – though never sub­stan­ti­ated – in­fi­deli­ties on Philip’s part, but out­wardly the cou­ple al­ways ap­peared happy.

They have four chil­dren, eight grand­chil­dren, and four great-grand­chil­dren, in­clud­ing Prince Ge­orge and Princess Char­lotte, born to Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cam­bridge.

Ten­sions with Philip’s former daugh­ter-in-law, Princess Diana, cul­mi­nated with Har­rods’ owner Mo­hammed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed along with the princess in Paris in 1997, ac­cus­ing him of mas­ter­mind­ing the cou­ple’s fa­tal car crash.

How­ever, the al­le­ga­tions were em­phat­i­cally re­jected by an in­quest into the deaths in March 2008.

The duke, who un­der­took hun­dreds of of­fi­cial du­ties ev­ery year, counted polo, fly­ing and sail­ing among his hob­bies and con­tin­ued com­pet­ing in horse-car­riage driv­ing com­pe­ti­tions well into his 80s.

When former US pres­i­dent Barack Obama vis­ited Bri­tain last year, the prince drove the queen and the Oba­mas across the royal es­tate at Wins­dor Cas­tle in his Range Rover.

Yet, shortly be­fore his 90th birth­day in 2011, he had ex­pressed a de­sire to slow down, giv­ing up sev­eral of his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to 800 char­i­ties and 350 en­gage­ments an­nu­ally. "I reckon I've done my bit so I want to en­joy my­self a bit now," he said in a BBC in­ter­view.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May led the tributes af­ter Buck­ing­ham Palace an­nounced in May that Prince Philip had de­cided not to carry out any more pub­lic du­ties af­ter Au­gust.

For most of his life, the prince has en­joyed good health, though in 2007 it was re­vealed he had been suf­fer­ing from a heart con­di­tion for 15 years.

In 2011-12, he was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal three times, once for his heart con­di­tion and twice for a re­cur­rent blad­der in­fec­tion.

En­quiries about his health were re­port­edly rou­tinely met with the in­dig­nant re­sponse, “Do I look bloody ill?”

The palace said he was hos­pi­talised again in June “as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure, for treat­ment of an in­fec­tion aris­ing from a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion.”

De­spite Prince Philip’s good deeds, it is his gaffes that many are likely to re­mem­ber.

As his cousin Count­ess Mount­bat­ten once com­mented: “He al­ways speaks his mind, some­times not nec­es­sar­ily with a high de­gree of tact.”

— Pho­tos: REUTERS

Stand by me: The Duke of Ed­in­burgh, Prince Philip, is al­most al­ways by Queen El­iz­a­beth’s side. Here the royal cou­ple were pho­tographed at Mar­itime Mu­seum in Lon­don, in 1990.

Queen El­iz­a­beth with Prince Philip ear­lier this year at the Metropoli­tan Po­lice, in cen­tral Lon­don.

— AP

This is a June 2, 1953 file photo of Queen El­iz­a­beth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Ed­in­burgh, as they wave to sup­port­ers from the bal­cony at Buck­ing­ham Palace, fol­low­ing her corona­tion at West­min­ster Abbey, Lon­don.

A Royal Col­lec­tion pho­to­graph shows Princess El­iz­a­beth and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh on their hon­ey­moon, Novem­ber 1947.

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