Leader comment: Prince Philip - a remarkable life and a significant legacy

Prince Philip on parade at a gala dinner in 2011. He steps down from public engagements later this year.
Prince Philip on parade at a gala dinner in 2011. He steps down from public engagements later this year.
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It’s fair to say that Prince Philip has had his share of critics over the years. In one portrayal, he is a social hand grenade, ready to make in inappropriate remark in every situation, making him a figure of ridicule each time he breaks the rules of political correctness. Another body of opinion has him cast, like the rest of the royals, as a burden on the public purse, enjoying a lifetime of privilege in exchange for a handshake and a “How do you do?”

Ask yourself how many times over the years you have heard it said that Prince Philip is a wonderful man, and a credit to the country. The honest answer is hardly ever – until yesterday changed all that. His decision to stand down from public duties and engagements later this year has reminded us that, at the age of 95, he continues to lead a quite remarkable and demanding life 30 years and more after most people have retired. Who can blame him, if he had his moments along the way?

It could be argued, of course, that he had no choice. When he asked Princess Elizabeth to marry him, he knew that she would one day be Queen, and he would have to stand alongside her for as long as she reigned or as long as he was able. Even so, at five years his wife’s elder, it would have been understandable if he had announced at any point in the last ten years that he was scaling down his commitments. Instead, he has remained impressively active, aided by the blessing of good health, fulfilling a busy diary of engagements.

News of the Prince’s belated retirement has made us all consider his achievements, and it his title of Duke of Edinburgh that will carry his greatest legacy as he steps back from an association with no less than 780 organisations. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme was founded by Prince Philip in 1956 to encourage the development of young people through experiences and achievements, and since it started, over five million have taken part. A great many have the scheme to thank for putting them on the right track as they approached adult life, helping them to find their way in careers and in the wider world.

In time-honoured tradition, we should now be wishing the duke a long and happy retirement, but in truth, that was not what he wanted. And in any case, we are told that even though he is stepping back, he may decide to attend certain events from time to time. We haven’t seen the last of Prince Philip quite yet.