Prince Philip Makes His Last Solo Appearance, After 65 Years in the Public Eye
Married to Queen Elizabeth II for nearly 70 years, the Duke of Edinburgh is retiring from most official engagements.,
Prince Philip, who on Wednesday made his final solo public appearance before retiring from his official duties as the consort of Queen Elizabeth II, recently quipped that he was “the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler.”
He could be forgiven for finally taking a break.
He is, after all, 96. He and the queen plan to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in November. Since she ascended the throne in 1952, according to Buckingham Palace, he has had 22,219 solo engagements, given 5,496 speeches, and written 14 books — among them “Competition Carriage Driving.”
A native of Greece, Prince Philip courted the then-Princess Elizabeth during his time in the Royal Navy, a part of history that has captivated a new generation of Britons via the Netflix series “The Crown.” Their seven-decade marriage has seen Britain through postwar austerity, the creation of a welfare state, the loss of empire, entry into what became the European Union and, now, plans to exit it.
Befitting a rugged former naval officer with a passion for the outdoors, he paid tribute on the grounds of Buckingham Palace to a group of Royal Marines who had just finished an athletic challenge that included a 1,664-mile trek for charity.
Wearing a bowler hat and tan jacket and appearing sprightly, he stood erect on an elevated stand, clasping his hands behind his back as the rain poured down, and marines marched by. A band played “God Save the Queen,” a nod to his hard-working wife, age 91, the longest-reigning monarch in British history. She has no plans to retire.
Perhaps befitting a prince known for his periodic blunders, his departure from public life did not pass without mishap. On Wednesday, The Daily Telegraph, a conservative-leaning newspaper known for its royal coverage, accidentally published an article on its website stating that Prince Philip had died, commemorating his life and detailing his funeral. (It has since been taken down.)
Prince Philip’s retirement was announced in May, following news reports that all members of the queen’s staff had been ordered to a very unusual meeting in London. The report prompted breathless rumors that a royal personage may have died, and members of the global news media scrambled to Buckingham Palace in the predawn hours.
In the end, after hours of waiting and anticipation, the palace announced the then-95-year-old prince was retiring, even as Buckingham Palace said that he might still occasionally attend public events at the queen’s side. At the time, Prime Minister Theresa May offered him “our deepest gratitude and good wishes.”
Part diplomat, part royal consort, Prince Philip has served as a patron, a president or a member of more than 780 organizations. The nephew of King Constantine I of Greece, he was born in 1921 in somewhat unroyal surroundings: a dining room table in a villa on Corfu, a Greek island.
Prince Philip’s departure from public life will deprive the British media of the king of the offensive one-liners, and, on Wednesday compilations of some of the greatest howlers once again circulated.
Offered a gift by a Kenyan woman in 1984, he asked: “You are a woman, aren’t you?”
Asked his opinion of Beijing, while on a tour of China in 1986, his reply was succinct: “Ghastly.”
“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?” he said to a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, in 1995.
Addressing a group of deaf children standing next to a Caribbean steel drum band in Cardiff, Wales, in 1999, he said, “If you’re near there, no wonder you are deaf.”
His very conspicuous lack of political correctness notwithstanding, on Wednesday he was mostly heaped with praise.
The BBC cited Lady Myra Butter, who, it noted, had known the prince since he was age 8 or 9. “I’m sure that he won’t disappear; he will be greatly missed by everybody,” she said. “He’s been such a stable character in all our lives — he’s always there and he’s always been there for the queen and I think we’re very, very lucky to have him.”