(dpa) – During his more than 70 years at the side of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip combined a strong sense of duty with remarkable charm … and an extraordinary propensity for gaffes.
The duke of Edinburgh, as he was officially titled, was the oldest and the longest-serving consort in British history, as well as being what the queen called 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 set out on a long and distinguished wartime service in the Royal Navy, which included the battle of Crete and the Allied landings on Sicily, before culminating in his witnessing the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in September 1945.
The couple were married shortly after the war on November 20, 1947, and the wedding was hailed by Winston Churchill as a ”flash of colour on the hard road we travel,” despite the resentment that the prince’s partly German origins had also 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. His father narrowly escaped execution.
His mother suffered a breakdown shortly afterwards and was sent to an asylum, while his father retired to the south of France with his mistress. Philip’s much older sisters were married off to German Nazis. As a consequence Philip’s childhood was often lonely and he had no real home.
He was sent to boarding schools in Germany and Scotland and passed between his relatives during the holidays. But he had no self pity: “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, the then queen Elizabeth, he adopted the Anglicized name of Mountbatten, renounced his other royal titles and became a naturalized British subject.
Her ascension to the throne also meant that his naval career was as good as over.
The royal relationship was reported to have had its ups and downs, with rumoured – though no never substantiated – infidelities on Philip’s side. But, outwardly, the couple always appeared happy.
Marking their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, he said that tolerance was the essential ingredient of a successful marriage: “You can take it from me that the queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance,” he added.
They had four children, eight grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. The second child of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is on the way.
Tensions with his ex-daughter-in-law, princess Diana, culminated with Harrod’s owner Mohammed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed with the princess when she died 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 counted polo, flying and sailing among his hobbies and continued competing in horse-carriage driving competitions well into his 80s.
He also took his duty to his country seriously, at times participating in more than 300 engagements per year. He accompanied his wife on most of her official visits and himself was patron or president of 800 charitable organizations.
However, shortly before his 90th birthday in 2011, he expressed a desire to slow down, giving up several of his responsibilities: “I reckon I’ve done my bit so I want to enjoy myself a bit now,” he said in a BBC interview. His last official public engagement was in 2017, with the Marines.
For most of his life, the prince enjoyed remarkably good health, remaining active throughout his final years. However, in 2007, it was revealed he had been suffering from a heart condition for the past 15 years.
In 2011-12, he was admitted to hospital three times, once for his heart condition and twice for a recurrent bladder infection, which also caused him to miss part of his wife’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. He had a hip successfully replaced in April 2018.
But enquiries about his health were reportedly routinely met with the indignant response: ”Do I look bloody ill?”
However, as 2021 began, his health took a turn. He spent a month in hospital earlier this year.
Despite his good works, it is the gaffes that the world is likely to remember, from when he told British students in China in 1986 to beware of getting “slitty-eyed” to his 2003 comment to Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who was wearing a traditional robe: “You look like you’re ready for bed!”
As his cousin Countess Mountbatten once commented, “he always speaks his mind, sometimes not necessarily with a high degree of tact.”