Back in the land of my birth last week there was a lot of excitement when the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, announced he would retire when he turns 96 years old next month.
Most people anticipate retiring in their 60s, but not Prince Philip. After 70 years of public engagements supporting his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip will cease public engagements after a farewell tour.
The UK media was filled with this news. The Sun Newspaper reported that the Duke of Edinburgh has attended 22,191 solo engagements, made 5,493 speeches and 637 official foreign visits since his marriage to the queen. He made the announcement to the royal staff at Buckingham Palace, and although not strictly a medical decision, he has spent some time in the hospital in recent years for abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery.
The younger royals will be taking on most of his public duties, in particular the very popular Prince William and Princess Catherine, who have decided to move from Norfolk to London. Prince William, who is now second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, will be giving up his job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot this summer so he can take on more royal duties.
The Duke of Edinburgh was born on the Island of Corfu as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, but in1922 when he was 18 months old, his family went into exile in London when the Greek royal family was overthrown in a military coup.
When he married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, he gave up a promising naval career which could have seen him become "First Sea Lord," the head of the British Navy.
Prince Philip’s impact on the monarchy, the UK and society in general has been amazing. The Duke of Edinburgh awards, which he set up in 1956, is now the world’s leading youth achievement award foundation, operating in 141 countries. He has authored 14 books, is a keen birdwatcher, and has been by the side of Queen Elizabeth for 70 years.
He is a keen shooter and a competitive horse carriage driver. Though retired from racing, he was seen driving his cart and horses through Windsor Park earlier this year. He will continue his association with almost 800 charitable, civic and business organizations of which he is a patron, president or member, though he will no longer play an active role by attending engagements.
Prince Philip is one of the most popular royals, and has a reputation for being gruff, quick-witted and a rock of stability for both the queen and the country. He loves oil painting, the outdoors, and is an avid reader. He is also known to be straight-talking to the point of complete political incorrectness.
Many things he has said over the years would have brought down a prime minister. In his case, however, the public seem to love his gaffes and forgive his misstatements, in no small part because of his huge commitment to the greater good.
Shortly after the news of his retirement was announced, the prince joined the queen at St. James’ Palace for a lunch for the Order of Merit, and the famous mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah told him: "I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down." Philip shot back: "Well I can’t stand up much longer."
One of my personal favourites of his gaffes is from the opening of a hospital in Canada in 1969 during what was a very busy royal visit. Prince Philip said "I declare this thing open, whatever it is!"
Prince Philip is the only person in the world who calls his wife, who’s official title is "Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second — by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories — the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, and Defender of the Faith" by the nickname "Cabbage"!
It is therefore appropriate that I end with a quote from the duke himself, when giving advice 20 years ago about how to have a successful marriage: "Tolerance is essential. You can take it from me that the queen has tolerance in abundance."
God bless America and the Duke of Edinburgh!