Prince Philip ends seven decades of service with final solo engagement

Britain’s longest-serving consort enjoys farewell despite heavy rain at Buckingham Palace with tribute from Royal Marines

The Duke of Edinburgh has bowed out of public life to cheers and a rousing rendition of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow played by the band of the Royal Marines.

It rained heavily on his final parade, necessitating a raincoat and bowler hat as Prince Philip, 96, performed his last solo engagement almost 70 years after his first.

• “Where did you get that hat?” (supposedly to the Queen at her coronation)

• “What do you gargle with, pebbles?” (speaking to singer Tom Jones)

• “I declare this thing open, whatever it is.” (in Canada in 1969)

• “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed.” (during the 1981 recession)

• “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.” (at a 1986 World Wildlife Fund meeting)

• “It looks like a tart’s bedroom.” (on seeing plans for the Duke and Duchess of York’s house at Sunninghill Park in 1988)

• “Yak, yak, yak; come on, get a move on.” (shouted from the deck of Britannia in Belize in 1994 to the Queen, who was chatting to her hosts on the quayside)

• “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?” (to a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, during a 1995 walkabout)

• “Bloody silly fool!” (in 1997, referring to a Cambridge University car park attendant who did not recognise him)

• “It looks as if it was put in by an Indian.” (pointing at an old-fashioned fusebox in a factory near Edinburgh in 1999)

• “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she’s not interested.” (on the Princess Royal)

The weather failed to dampen the enthusiasm of an umbrella-wielding crowd who had gathered outside Buckingham Palace, and whose applause was rewarded with a wave of acknowledgement by the duke as he walked off the palace forecourt and into retirement.

Philip, who announced that he was stepping down in May, had chosen the forecourt of Buckingham Palace and a Royal Marines military parade to stage his final solo act.

As Captain General of the Royal Marines, he took the royal salute and inspected an honour guard to mark the finale of the 1664 Global Challenge, a series of endurance feats by marines to raise awareness of and funds for the Royal Marines Charity.

The Duke of Edinburgh attending the Captain General’s Parade as his final individual public engagement, at Buckingham Palace in London.
The Duke of Edinburgh attending the Captain General’s Parade as his final individual public engagement, at Buckingham Palace in London. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Among those he met were Cpl Will Gingell, 33, and Cpl Jamie Thompson, 31, who had run 1,664 miles over 100 days, and Sgt Matt Burley, a physical training instructor, who swam 1,664 lengths underwater over 10 days.

“You all should be locked up,” Philip joked in characteristic fashion.

It was the 22,219th solo engagement carried out by the duke since his wife became Queen in 1952. As far as Buckingham Palace could ascertain, his very first had been on 2 March 1948, a few months after his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, when he attended the London Federation of Boys’ Club Boxing finals at the Royal Albert Hall. The Court Circular recorded that the prince, then aged 26, presented the prizes.

‘I can’t stand up much longer!’: Prince Philip jokes about retirement

A Royal Navy man to the core who was mentioned in dispatches during the second world war, Philip’s choice of a Royal Navy and Marine Corps engagement as his last was described as “an honour” and “brilliant” by Lt Col Gary Green, who devised the 1664 Global Challenge.

Of having the duke as the head of the Corps, he said: “It makes the Corps exceptional, it builds our Commando spirit and he’s a wonderful figurehead for all Royal Marines to look up to.”

Philip, who may still accompany the Queen at times, has been among the most active of the royals right up to retirement. This year he has spent 52 days carrying out public engagements, more than the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at 49, 45, and 39 days respectively, but not as many as his daughter, the Princess Royal, who has clocked up 111 days so far, or his eldest son, Charles, at 89 days.

Lady Myra Butter, who has known Prince Philip since childhood, told Radio 4’s Today: “I’m sure that he won’t disappear; he will be greatly missed by everybody. 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.”

The prime minister, Theresa May, tweeted a tribute to the duke, saying: “As he carries out his final public engagement, I thank the Duke of Edinburgh for a remarkable lifetime of service.

“I hope the Duke, after 22,219 solo engagements since 1952, can now enjoy a well-earned retirement!”

He may be bowing out of public life, but not as dramatically as readers of the Daily Telegraph’s website were informed on Wednesday when an accidental slip of the keyboard resulted in the headline: “HOLD HOLD HOLD, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged XX”, announcing his death and publishing details of his funeral. The Telegraph swiftly pulled the article and apologised, saying it would be “reviewing its publishing processes as a matter of urgency”. In May, when his retirement was announced, the Sun’s website also erroneously announced his death.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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