Looking back at Prince Philip's remarkable life

The daredevil Duke: Even as he advanced in years, Prince Philip refused to slow down, as our fascinating look back at his life in pictures reveals

Carriage driving is a perilous pursuit but, at 83, Prince Philip is still competing at the highest level. Here, the Duke gives ROBERT HARDMAN his views on dicing with danger, hunting — and when he expects the Queen’s command to rein himself in…

Aside from the invention of the disc brake, this sport has not changed much since the days of Ben-Hur.

They don’t try to kill each other these days. In fact, it is all very friendly. But it still requires strong arms and stronger nerves to control four thoroughbreds as they drag you across land, water and some infernal obstacles.

And, at 83, by far the oldest competitor in international carriage driving has no intention of giving up just yet.

‘You’ve got to be a nutcase,’ Prince Philip explains when I ask him for the ideal qualities in a carriage driver. So what is it about the sport that has captivated him for more than three decades? ‘The best bit is when it’s over,’ he says with a grin.

The Duke of Edinburgh at the reigns of a carriage during the dressarge event at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2002

Prince Philip sits in his pony and trap relaxing at the Royal Windsor Horse Trials


I try again. What gives him the greatest thrill? Is it charging across open ground at full pelt with all 16 hooves thudding in unison? Or is it weaving through some fiendish slalom?

‘No,’ insists the Duke of Edinburgh. ‘It’s when it’s all over and you’re still in one piece.’

Then he emits a mischievous chuckle. He is certainly a picture of gritted-teeth, clawed-knuckle intensity when I watch him in action later. But he also, clearly, loves every minute.

We are sitting in a marquee below Windsor Castle as the Duke prepares to compete on home turf at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. He is raring to go. There are no flunkies in sight, not even a chauffeur for the royal Land Rover, which he drives himself.

The sun is out and it is going to be a vintage show. So I find the Duke in fine form and full of forthright views on all things horsey.

He has agreed to see me to discuss his favourite sport. His cricket, polo and sailing days are all over, but the Duke is as competitive as ever about carriage driving. I have seen some of the obstacles and the speeds involved and it strikes me that this is a pretty precarious hobby for someone in their prime, let alone for an octogenarian war veteran. Deaths are not unknown.

I ask him whether the Queen or other members of the Royal Family have dropped gentle hints that he might like to take up something a little less energetic. ‘Not yet. Any minute now, I should think,’ he replies before adding: ‘On the whole, we don’t interfere with each other.’

The British carriage driving season kicked off a week earlier in Brighton. The Duke did not just do well. He won his event — the pony four-in-hand — which put him at the top of the national table.

Prince Philip enjoying carriage driving – a sport he turned to with great seriousness when age made his beloved polo too dangerous

Prince Philip, pictured at the Windsor Horse Trials in Berkshire in 1981


His success is all the more remarkable given that he took up this sport only because arthritis was forcing him out of another.Being a natural sportsman — in his cricketing days, Prince Philip took the wicket of England legend Tom Graveney — he took to polo in an instant. But not for long. ‘The war broke out and that was that,’ he says. It was only after the war, while stationed in Malta, that he resumed his interest in the game.

Over the years, he was battered and bruised and still winces whenever he sees a dancer doing the splits, because it reminds him of the day he caught his knee against a rider who was galloping in the opposite direction.

Finally, a wrist injury turned arthritic and he realised his days were numbered. ‘I decided to give up polo at 50.’ By then, however, he had become one of the most powerful figures in the equestrian world.

Most people are probably unaware that he spent 22 years as a wily and respected president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the world governing body for everything from dressage to showjumping. In 1968, he was involved in drawing up rules and tournaments for the newly recognised sport of carriage driving.

‘Then, in 1972, there were the world championships in Germany which I went out to see. And I then thought, ‘Well why don’t I have a go?’

‘Without knowing what the hell I was doing, I decided to drive horses!’

In pretty short order, he was soon competing at national and then international level, winning three bronze team medals and a team gold. He is almost certainly the only serving president of any international sporting federation who has competed in one of his own events.

Queen Elizabeth II presents the Duke of Edinburgh with a trophy for Carriage Driving at at the Royal Windsor Horse Show 1982


His presidency lasted until 1986 (when he was succeeded by the Princess Royal) and, in the same year, he ‘downsized’ from horses to ponies — marginally less taxing

He has granted me this interview to promote carriage driving and yet he is magnificently no-nonsense when I ask him if he has a message for young people who might be interested in taking up the activity.

‘I haven’t got a message for anybody, thank you,’ he replies. ‘I’m not trying to promote it like some soap powder. I mean, it’s a sport for Christ’s sake. If people want to take part, it’s up to them.’

Evidently, he still does. The oldest equestrian competitor in the business then shakes my hand before disappearing to join the fray and compete against the best in Europe.

Four days later, a few days short of his 83rd birthday, he finishes in third place.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

One can’t believe you’re 80! Queen’s fond tribute to her ‘rock’ on his milestone birthday

By Richard Kay 

The Queen spoke lovingly of her husband yesterday as Prince Philip celebrated his birthday.

‘I can’t believe you’re 80!’ she declared at a champagne reception at Windsor Castle. ‘I speak for all the family and everyone here, thank you from us all.’

Surrounded by the Royal Family and Philip’s German relatives, the guests responded with three rousing cheers.

After weeks of public celebrations, including a concert at the Royal Albert Hall starring Shirley Bassey, yesterday’s party was a chance for Philip to reflect on his life with those closest to him.

Problems such as the reported rift with Prince Charles were put aside for the largest gathering of royalty since Prince Edward’s wedding two years ago.

‘I’m not sure that I recommend being 80,’ Philip confessed. ‘It’s not so much the age, but trying to survive these celebrations.’

The Queen spoke lovingly of her husband as Prince Philip celebrated his 80th birthday

Last week at a Guildhall lunch in his honour, he suggested that years of responding to loyal toasts had added to his longevity.

It was a theme picked up on by the Queen. ‘It is of great interest to me to propose another toast to your long life,’ she said.

There was also a loving tribute from his sister-in-law, Princess Margaret. Despite still suffering the aftermath of a series of debilitating strokes, she managed to arrange a dazzling surprise for the Duke.

On her instructions, 20 male dancers in white naval uniforms from the Royal Ballet School danced the hornpipe for Philip. Then, armed with flags, they signalled Happy Birthday in semaphore to the former Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander.

Earlier, at a thanksgiving service at St George’s Chapel, the Dean of Windsor, the Rt Rev David Connor, singled out Philip’s ‘loyalty, encouragement, inspiration, example and sheer stickability’. He paid tribute to Philip’s self-effacing manner, saying: ‘He will not want any fuss.’

He explained the Prince’s gift for understatement, saying he had been told Philip might come to church on his birthday with ‘just a few friends’.

In fact, 500 lined the pews. Hand-picked by Philip, the guest list demonstrated his own loyalties, too. There were old friends, of course. But dozens more came from the domestic staff, past and present, who have looked after him over the years. As the Mail previously revealed, the guests should have included Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell, whose wife Maria was once Philip’s housemaid. But Mr Burrell was ‘disinvited’ earlier in the week.

The Duke of Edinburgh meets singer Dame Shirley Bassey at the Royal Albert Hall in 2001

On bail pending police inquiries into items missing from Diana’s apartment, it was feared that his presence would be inappropriate.

Few among the immediate Royal Family were away from yesterday’s celebrations, apart from Prince William who is still in Africa on his gap year.

Among Philip’s family of nephews and nieces was Princess Xenia of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

She arrived with Prince Harry, easily the tallest royal on display. On a blustery and cool day most walked to church from the castle. Only Philip, the Queen and the Queen Mother arrived by car.

Monday, June 11, 2001

As he admits: I’m a grumpy so-and-so

By Nilufer Atik 

It is what many people the world over might, perhaps, have thought for some years.

Gaffe-prone Prince Philip, famed for his occasional offensive remarks and gruff attitude, yesterday finally admitted he is a ‘cantankerous old sod’.

The Prince gave himself the label during a visit to Cardiff to promote his Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

The Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to a clay pigeon shooting competition organised by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation on the royal Sandringham Estate in 2002

A member of the audience asked whether the scheme might attract more participants if it were not named after him. Philip replied: ‘Whatever you call it, some people will think it is rubbish, while some people would not be worried about this connection with this cantankerous old sod up here.’

Earlier, the Prince lived up to his reputation for odd comments with remarks about the Romans, Greeks and ancient Celts. Responding to a question about why the values of the award scheme had not changed since it was set up in 1956, Philip said: ‘Human existence is much the same as it has been. The ancient Greeks had to grow up and so did the Romans and whoever lived in the hills here.’ 

The Prince was promoting the scheme, which aims to help young people improve themselves and gain leadership skills, at the Thistle Hotel and later at a criminal justice seminar in the Millennium Stadium.

Saturday, February 24, 2001

How do you didgeridoo? 

Prince Philip heard Aborigine Bob Slockee play the didgeridoo and he wanted to know all about it

Coming face to face with a chap wearing little more than a red loincloth, some twigs and a liberal coating of body paint might test the most practised diplomat. Not Prince Philip.

He had just heard Aborigine Bob Slockee play the didgeridoo and he wanted to know all about it.

Barefoot Mr Slockee, the ochre and white clay on his body baking to a crust in the heat and one hand hovering over his skimpy costume, was understandably nervous.

‘I learned to play in a vacuum cleaner pipe,’ he told the Prince. To which Philip replied: ‘I hope it wasn’t switched on.’

Mr Slockee, 25, a museum attendant, opened a church service at St Paul’s in Canberra by playing a song about Australia’s wildlife on the four-foot long didgeridoo.

Three days into this royal tour and Philip seemed to have shaken off his jet-lag and benefited from his lie-in on Saturday when he missed a photocall with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The Prince’s first appearance alongside the Queen won a warm welcome from more than 1,000 well-wishers, ardent monarchists all.

The crowd, many waving Union Jacks, burst into applause as the couple went on a short walkabout after the hour-long service. The Queen came across another Mrs Windsor who told her she, too, had a son called Edward.

Carol Windsor, 51, from Wagga Wagga, three hours away, said: ‘The Queen has never put a foot wrong and she deserves our respect.’

Monday, March 20, 2000  

When fledgling Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda was asked in conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh what he did before entering Parliament, he could have answered: ‘Measuring distances using a gallium arsenide laser.’ That is what it says on his CV. Instead, the 31-year-old Member for Gloucester replied that he had been a student and then trade union official.

‘You didn’t do anything then,’ was the Duke’s somewhat brusque response.

There the matter might have ended until Mr Dhanda decided to turn the subject on its head. ‘What did you do before becoming the Duke of Edinburgh?’ he demanded in front of astonished guests at a Buckingham Palace reception for parliamentarians.

Prince Philip, 50 years Mr Dhanda’s senior, replied that he had served in the Royal Navy.

Thursday, November 7, 2002

His mobile’s as loud as a drill! 

He begrudgingly started to wear a hearing aid in public a few months ago, but Prince Philip is already making adjustments in other areas of his life.

The 93-year-old has just started using a special mobile phone designed for those with hearing loss.

Most high street phones are not suitable for those wearing aids because of the levels of interference. And while Philip’s new Amplicomms M8000 might be short on smartphone-style gimmicks, it has a powerful vibrating alert and a ringtone that can sound as loud as a road drill.

The £99 phone was sent as a gift by Hearing Direct, a firm set up by businessman Jamie Murray Wells, a friend of Prince William and Prince Harry.

A company source said: ‘Apparently the Prince said it was the best he had ever used.’

Saturday, Jan 17, 2015

‘Gadzooks! I hope that’s not my portrait’

The Duke of Edinburgh by acclaimed artist Stuart Pearson Wright

Anxious for approval of his work in progress, artist Stuart Pearson Wright asked Prince Philip if he’d caught his likeness.

‘I bloody well hope not!’ Philip snapped back.

The exchange summed up an unhappy experience for both sitter and artist which has resulted in the finished full-length portrait, described by the artist himself as ‘flat and nasty’, being kept from public view.

Instead, Mr Pearson Wright used the work as a basis to produce a study of Prince Philip’s head for the Royal Society of Arts, which commissioned the painting.

The Prince, who has been RSA president for 50 years, personally selected Mr Pearson Wright, 27, winner of the 2001 BP Portrait Award, for the project. Recalling the first sitting, Mr Pearson Wright said: ‘All of a sudden this little old man shuffled into the room.

‘I’m not sure if he was wearing carpet slippers, but that was my impression. I tried to make conversation and asked him about his kids and Greece and his upbringing, but he was not especially forthcoming.’

Philip inspected the canvas after the session and exclaimed: ‘Gadzooks!’

‘I wouldn’t say it didn’t go well — it’s just that his own response was less than complimentary,’ Mr Pearson Wright said.

‘I wouldn’t say I’m used to people being so direct with their views.’

Saturday, July 26, 2003

After 22,219 engagements, he bows out with one last quip 

By Rebecca English, Royal Correspondent  

It was his 22,219th solo engagement in 65 years of public service — and, officially, his last.

Typically, however, the Duke of Edinburgh showed not a whiff of emotion as he walked off into his well-deserved retirement at the age of 96, despite the tears of his staff.

Instead there was just a modest wave of his hand to acknowledge the spontaneous cheer that rang out over the gravelled forecourt at Buckingham Palace from the crowds outside as he met Royal Marines who had completed the 1664 Global Challenge charity event.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh raises his hat in his role as Captain General, Royal Marines, as his final individual public engagement as he attends a parade to mark the finale of the 1664 Global Challenge, on the Buckingham Palace Forecourt on August 2, 2017


And then, as the Royal Marines Band of Plymouth played a rousing rendition of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow, his bowler-hatted figure disappeared without even so much as a backward glance. So very Philip!

The Palace had revealed in May that he had decided, with the full support of the Queen, to step back from public life.

Although he may choose to attend events, such as Trooping The Colour, from time to time, the Duke will no longer undertake any official duties.

‘You can see he is in good form and good spirits, but ultimately only he knows how he feels. It is very much his personal choice to step back now,’ a senior royal aide told the Mail.

Philip’s first engagement with the Queen after their marriage was an afternoon party on December 16, 1947.

His first solo engagement was a visit to the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs boxing finals at the Royal Albert Hall on March 2, 1948.

Since the Queen came to the throne in 1952, the Duke has made 637 overseas visits, given 5,496 speeches and stepped up as patron for 785 charities and organisations.

It is an impressive list of achievements but doesn’t even begin to capture, say those who have worked him, the often under-appreciated passion, vigour and fierce intelligence he brought to his work.

Yesterday, alone as his wife has already left London to spend the summer in Scotland, that dynamism was still very much in evidence as he strode out from the Palace five minutes early and stood to attention, ramrod straight, on a small dais in the driving rain.

Despite the formality of the occasion, there was a rather jolly feel with the band playing tunes including Life On The Ocean Wave and Rod Stewart’s Sailing.

Dressed in a lounge suit and Royal Marines tie with, apparently, 17 medals hidden under his raincoat (including his War Medal 1939-1945 with Mention in Dispatches, and Atlantic Star), the Duke wore the Guards bowler hat he sports, when not in uniform, to take the salute when the National Anthem is played.

The only concession to his age was the merest brush of the handrail as he stepped up to the dais.

Prince Philip, in his role as Captain General of the Royal Marines, talks to troops as he attends a Parade on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace


Philip’s association with the Royal Marines stretches back to June 2, 1953, when he was appointed as Captain General in succession to the late George VI.

After taking the Royal Salute, he met some of the Marines who took part in the 1664 Global Challenge — named after the year in which the corps was founded. They have been running 1,664 miles to raise money for their charity.

Philip being Philip, it was also the opportunity for one last pithy aside. Corporal Will Thompson, 33, from Hackney, East London, said: ‘He was pretty upbeat, considering the weather — he said we should all be locked up.’

Corporal Jamie Gingell, 31, from Carlisle, added: ‘He said we were mad for running that distance.’ Former Brigadier Mike Ellis, chief executive of the Royal Marines Association, said: ‘I do feel sorry for him because it’s his last public event and it’s rained on his parade quite considerably.’

At the end of the ceremony, Philip offered a jaunty and appreciate wave of his hat as the assembled troops gave him a lusty three cheers.

He then strode off, his brisk military pace barely faltering, even as he acknowledged the crowds.

The look on his face was that of a man who was genuinely embarrassed at the fuss.

Tracey Devlin, from Northampton, one of the hundreds who had gathered outside the Palace, said: ‘He doesn’t much look like someone who is ready for retirement, but let’s hope he enjoys it. He’s earned it.’

Few would disagree.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

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