OBITUARY

Britain's Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, dies aged 99

The world's longest serving consort has earned a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense attitude and a propensity for occasional gaffes

Published Sat, Apr 10, 2021 · 05:50 AM

London

P RINCE Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth and a leading figure in the British royal family for almost seven decades, has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace said on Friday.

The Duke of Edinburgh, as he was officially known, had been by his wife's side throughout her 69-year reign, the longest in British history, during which time he earned a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense attitude and a propensity for occasional gaffes.

"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," the palace said in a statement.

"His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."

A Greek prince, he married the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He played a key role in modernising the monarchy in the post-World War II period. Behind the walls of Buckingham Palace, he was the one key figure the queen could turn to and trust.

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"He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," Queen Elizabeth said in a rare personal tribute to Philip made in a speech marking their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.

He often grabbed headlines for his gaffes, but Prince Philip was portrayed by royalists as the silent stalwart, who shelved his personal ambitions to support Queen Elizabeth II over seven decades.

Although born into the Greek royal family - he preferred to be thought of as a Danish prince - the Duke of Edinburgh never wore a crown himself.

Like her, his life was ruled by duty and tradition, putting his considerable energy behind numerous charities and carrying out 22,219 solo public engagements since Queen Elizabeth rose to the throne in 1952.

But Prince Philip regularly got into hot water for what were politely referred to as "politically incorrect" off-the-cuff remarks - quips that from anyone else would be seen as downright racist.

"You managed not to get eaten, then?" he remarked to a British student who had trekked in Papua New Guinea in 1998.

On a historic state visit to China in 1986, the self-described "cantankerous old sod" warned a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."

There was also his reputation as a womaniser, something that worried the royal family even before he and queen married. They reportedly found the young naval officer "rough, ill-mannered and uneducated" and worried he "would probably not be faithful".

The man whom the queen's formidable mother privately referred to as "The Hun" because of his German Battenberg blood, was quickly suspected of a string of affairs, which would later be resurrected in the hit Netflix series The Crown.

But Prince Philip laughed off talk of philandering - with Sarah, the Duchess of York's mother often cited as one of his former lovers. "For the last 40 years I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me. So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?" he said.

At home, the duke had a reputation for being cold towards his four children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward. But many observers considered him to be the glue that held together the royal family.

In a rarely seen softer side, it emerged the late Princess Diana addressed him as "Dearest Pa" in letters in which he offered solace over her deteriorating marriage to his eldest son Charles.

Prince Philip, the world's longest serving consort, was blessed with robust health for much of his long life, and conducted his final official appearance in August 2017 at the age of 96.

He was admitted to hospital with various complaints as he advanced into his 90s, most recently for a heart procedure. In January 2019, at the age of 97 and still driving, he was involved in a car accident near the royal estate of Sandringham in eastern England. His Land Rover Freelander overturned and two other motorists were injured. Prosecutors decided not to press charges after the prince, who walked away unscathed, voluntarily surrendered his driving licence.

After the accident, he withdraw from public life and he spent much of 2020 in isolation with the queen at their Windsor Castle home west of London, shielding from the coronavirus pandemic.

But he made several appearances, including at the wedding ceremony of his granddaughter Princess Beatrice in July, four months before celebrating his own 73rd wedding anniversary.

He also attended a military ceremony at Windsor in July when he handed over his ceremonial military role as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles regiment to his daughter-in-law Camilla, wife of Prince Charles.

Never one to talk about his own feelings, the prince admitted in a rare 2011 interview that he had carved out his own role in the royal family by "trial and error".

Asked if he had been successful, he told the BBC in his typical forthright manner: "I couldn't care less. Who cares what I think about it? I mean, it's ridiculous."

His greatest legacy may lie in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme, which was set up in 1956 to develop the confidence and skills of young people aged 15 to 25 in Britain and the Commonwealth. REUTERS, AFP

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