The Queen’s constant strength
A look at Britain’s oldest and the longest-serving consort, who has just retired.
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.”
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.
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.