The milestone man
The years that followed saw Charles’s second marriage, to Camilla Parker Bowles, in 2005, and the birth of Philip’s first great-grandchildren. On April 19, 2009, Philip became Britain’s longest-serving royal consort, beating the record of 57 years and 70 days set by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.
It was a milestone that Philip, then 87, showed no interest in marking. He told friends and family he did not want to make a fuss and instead spent the day at Windsor Castle with the Queen.
In 2011, Prince William married Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey before an estimated global audience of more than a billion people — helping to establish the shape of the modern monarchy. As Philip turned 90 that year, he voiced his willingness to ease off. “I want to enjoy myself for a bit now,” he told the BBC. “I’m just sort of winding down.”
It barely registered in his schedule. A month after the wedding Philip accompanied the Queen to the Republic of Ireland on the first visit by a British monarch since it won independence as the Irish Free State in 1922.
She spoke for both of them when, in her speech at Dublin Castle, she made reference to the murder of Lord Mountbatten more than three decades earlier.
The conflict, the Queen said, had “touched us all, many of us personally... to all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy”.
It paved the way for a crucial visit to Northern Ireland the next year, where the Queen and Philip met deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, who had been the Provisional IRA’s chief of staff when Lord Mountbatten was murdered. McGuinness later revealed that he had told the royal couple “that I recognised they too had lost a loved one”.
Watch: The wonderful life of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh
Philip remained a remarkably healthy and active man into his final years. He made 131 public appearances in the year of his retirement and that November could still be seen driving a carriage around the grounds of Windsor.
There were scares, however. In December 2011, after an 11-day tour to Australia, the Duke had to pull out of a trip to Italy with a cold. Weeks later he was treated for a blocked coronary artery and spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day in hospital.
Ever stubborn, he walked the 400 yards from Sandringham to St Mary Magdalene Church for the New Year’s Day service to applause from the crowd.
Then, amid the pageantry of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012, the Duke fell ill with a bladder infection. It was perhaps inevitable.
On Sunday June 3, with London lashed by heavy rain, the Queen and Philip set sail down the Thames on the royal barge MV Spirit of Chartwell. Ornate chairs under a gold-coloured canopy were prepared for the couple, who were joined by the core of the royal family: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Philip, resplendent in his uniform of Lord High Admiral of the Fleet — an honour the Queen had movingly bestowed upon him to mark his 90th birthday — refused to sit down as the 670-strong flotilla proceeded down the Thames on its four-hour voyage.
The gesture took its toll. The next afternoon the prince was taken from Windsor to King Edward VII hospital, where he was to spend five nights recovering. The bad news emerged two and a half hours before the star-studded concert outside Buckingham Palace.
The Queen knew the show had to go on, and took to the royal box without him at 9pm. The most touching moment came when Charles delivered a speech to the 12,000-strong crowd watching in The Mall.
“The only sad thing about this evening is that my father could not be here with us because unfortunately he was taken unwell,” he said. “But ladies and gentlemen if we shout loud enough he might just hear us in hospital and get better.”
When the audience began chanting Philip’s name the Queen appeared, for a moment, to let her guard slip, and bit her lower lip. In the end, the passing of the scare was met with characteristic spirit from Philip.
When he was discharged from hospital on the eve of his 91st birthday and asked by waiting reporters if he was feeling better, he snapped: “I wouldn’t be coming out otherwise.”
Passing the baton
In an interview to mark the Diamond Jubilee, Harry paid tribute to his grandmother’s stoicism and sense of duty but said her achievements would not have been possible without the unswerving support of her husband.
“Regardless of whether my grandfather seems to be doing his own thing, sort of wandering off like a fish down the river, the fact that he’s there — personally, I don’t think that she could do it without him, especially when they’re both at this age,” he said.
The next year the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her and William’s first child, George, the third of Philip’s great-grandchildren.
By 2017, with the line of succession spanning three generations and almost 70 years of service to his name, not counting his years in the Navy, he was ready to follow through with his plan to “wind down”.
On the morning of May 4 the palace revealed that Philip, weeks away from his 96th birthday and with the Queen’s full support, was to step down from his public role.
His final official engagement fell on August 2, when he met Royal Marines at Buckingham Palace to congratulate them on completing a series of endurance events for charity. Cheered as he left in the rain, he tipped his hat. The public duties might have ended but Philip’s public life did not. He remained president, patron and member of 780 organisations and continued to celebrate the milestones that came his way.
On November 20, 2017, he and the Queen marked seven decades of marriage. A week later, Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle was announced. They married on May 19, 2018 in St George’s Chapel at Windsor with Philip in attendance. Their son, Archie, was born on May 6 the following year.
The Duke settled into a quiet retirement at Wood Farm on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate . It had been their bolthole away from palace formality for years and Philip always loved it there. He still had help — a page, housekeeper, chef and footman to take care of him. The Duke enjoyed the slower existence the smaller estate gave him.
Watch: Prince Philip and the Queen's marriage
The Queen rightly felt the Duke had earned a proper retirement. She obviously missed him, but they spoke daily and spent extended holidays together.
Philip’s free spirit had always been at the forefront of the Queen’s mind and she never knowingly tried to restrict him. He was, after all, his own man. He was, however, involved in one drama in January 2019 — a car accident with him at the wheel. He had to climb from the wreckage following the crash in which his Land Rover flipped on its side. He was said to have been “shocked and shaken” after the accident, which left two other people with minor injuries. A baby in the other car, like him, was not injured. Again there were calls for him to stop driving and slow down.
Then, last year, Philip and the Queen suffered family heartache when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided to quit their senior royal roles. In a bombshell announcement on January 8, Harry and Meghan revealed they would “step back”, work towards financial independence and divide their time between Britain and North America. They formally stepped down as senior members of the Royal Family on March 31.
Philip’s last ma
jor intervention in public life came during the coronavirus pandemic early last year when he was self-isolating with the Queen at Windsor Castle. The Queen, then 93, had been at Buckingham Palace but in March de-camped a half-an-hour drive to the castle. Philip, then 98, was flown by helicopter from Wood Farm to join her. The following month, the Duke issued what was to be his last public statement: a thank you to key workers who were helping to make sure, “the infrastructure of our life continues” during the crisis. His rare intervention, the first since his retirement, made front-page news.
The Queen enjoyed the rare opportunity to spend an extended period of quality time with Philip again, cared for by a small team of loyal staff dubbed “HMS Bubble”. It gave the monarch what aides described as a “new lease of life”.
He and the Queen were rarely seen in public, although last July they were pictured together at the wedding of their granddaughter Princess Beatrice to property developer Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge, Windsor.
The same month Philip stepped back into his life of royal duty, albeit briefly, to carry out a military ceremony in which he handed the keys of Colonel- in-Chief of The Rifles to his daughter-in-law Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Immaculately dressed in a blazer, regimental tie and highly polished brogues, he appeared the picture of health. As he stepped into the Windsor Castle quadrangle with a smile and a cheerful wave he seemed thrilled to be back on duty.
The Queen and the Duke spent Christmas quietly together at Windsor and in January this year it was announced that they had both received the coronavirus vaccine. In a statement just this week, the couple were said to be “delighted” at the news Harry and Meghan were expecting their second child.
In the BBC interview to mark his 90th birthday, Philip had said: “I reckon I’ve done my bit.” It was a modest summation of an extraordinary life from a no less extraordinary character, who was in fact to continue in his public role for six more years, and as the Queen’s “strength and stay” until his death.
Watch: Palace flies flag at half mast as Prince Philip passes away