His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh died on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99. Here, Country Life takes a look at the extraordinary impact of a man who shaped the nation over the course of nine decades.
In his magisterial 1991 biography of Prince Philip, Tim Heald declared: ‘If there wasn’t a Duke of Edinburgh now, we should have to think seriously about inventing one.’ Heald followed the then 70- year-old Duke for a few days of engagements and found himself flailing in the indefatigable Prince’s wake through a packed diary.
The Duke was so long-lived that few of us remember when the handsome Prince and his young and beautiful Queen blazed across the world stage, but, in recent years, the Netflix series The Crown reminded a global audience of the young couple determined to change the world, even if the show’s soap-opera approach was often rather more fiction than fact.
Heald was allowed unprecedented access for his book and found himself struggling to fit all The Duke’s accomplishments and activities into his book’s pages. It was a routine that had barely reduced by the time Prince Philip retired from public duties in August 2017.
Anyone who still believes that the members of the Royal Family live in pampered idleness would do well to study The Duke’s diary and the sheer number of events packed into a single day, every day, for decade after decade.
They should also speak to all the thousands of people His Highness met over those decades, most of whom would state their pleasure at meeting the avuncular Duke, as well as the many young people who have enjoyed and benefited from the awards scheme he set up.
Over his lifetime of service, he served as a patron of more than 780 organisations — and, for him, that didn’t mean being a remote name on the letterhead. His was a very hands-on, active participation, in many cases lasting for more than 50 years.
The organisations involved reflect his wide-ranging interests, from conservation and engineering to school playing fields. If that wasn’t enough, he was also keen to promote discussions between races and faiths, organising conferences to facilitate such dialogues, even if the public at large was unaware of them.
Ever wary of empty fame, he knew the public could devour you as quickly as they could adore you:
‘In the first years of The Queen’s reign, the level of adulation you wouldn’t believe it… It could have been corroding. It would have been very easy to play to the gallery, but I took a conscious decision not to do that. Safer not to be too popular. You can’t fall too far.’
He may not have always been appreciated, but his achievements will speak for him for many years to come.
To celebrate his contribution to public life, we’ve collected some of Prince Philip’s most memorable pictures over the years.
The Duke of Edinburgh accompanies HRH The Queen during her coronation in 1953
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during a state visit to New Zealand and Australia in 1954
Prince Philip pictured smiling on his 70th birthday, back in 1991
The Duke of Edinburgh was highly amused by students in Melbourne rolling out their version of a red carpet during a state visit to New Zealand and Australia in 1954
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with Mrs Hector Barrantes on the occasion of the wedding between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh pictured in an informal moment in 1972 on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary. Picture: Country Life, 16 November 1972
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh pictured in 1997 on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary
Prince Philip pictured during a visit to Country Life magazine's offices in 1978.
The Duke of Edinburgh never missed a chance to say hello to anyone!