The Duke of Edinburgh’s decision to step down from public duties has been met with tributes praising his contribution to national life – and a lighthearted quip from Prince Philip himself.
He will retire from royal engagements in the autumn after more than 65 years supporting the Queen in her role as head of state, and attending events connected to his own charities and organisations.
Despite being 95, Prince Philip’s decision – which is fully supported by the Queen and is said not to be medically related – came as a surprise as he still has a busy official diary and appears to relish meeting the public.
A royal aide said of the Duke: “He’s looking forward to enjoying more of his leisure time.’’
Prince Philip saw the funny side of the announcement when he met mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah at a reception for members of the Order of Merit at St James’s Palace yesterday.
When Sir Michael, 88, said to him: “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” the Duke replied: “Well I can’t stand up much longer.”
The Queen’s public schedule will continue as normal but it is understood other members of the Royal Family will “step up” in support of the monarch.
The royal aide added: “This is not a decision taken for medical reasons. The Duke decided this is the right time; he’s nearly 96 and most people will have retired 30 years earlier.”
It is understood the Duke had been thinking about stepping down from public duties over the past few months and took the decision to make the announcement now, as his diary for the autumn would have been finalised during this period.
But Buckingham Palace stressed he may decide to attend certain events from time to time, and added that he would continue to be associated with organisations he is patron or president of.
Prince Philip is famed for his quips and outspoken remarks that amuse and offend in equal measure, but he also has a passionate interest in engineering and design, has written 14 books – many on the subject of wildlife, including Birds From Britannia – and is a qualified pilot who speaks several languages.
His decision to retire from public life comes after a momentous six-year period for the Royal Family, from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011, the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations last year and the Queen becoming Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, passing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s record in September 2015.
Prince Philip is expected to spend more time at Windsor Castle, where he is ranger of Windsor Great Park and has overseen developments at the estate. Although he is not involved in its day-to-day running, he takes a keen interest.
And despite withdrawing from public contact with his charities and organisations, the Duke will still keep in touch via correspondence, including signing certificates and sending messages.
The Queen will continue with her official duties as normal and will now have more solo engagements without the Duke, but is likely to be joined by other members of the Royal Family who will also carry out additional engagements in support of her role as head of state.
The Duke of Cambridge has already announced he will be leaving his job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot in the summer with the intention of taking on more royal duties.
The Queen’s household were called to Buckingham Palace for a special meeting to be told of the development but when news leaked out about the gathering there was wild speculation on the internet and social media about the reasons behind it.
Staff were bussed in from Windsor Castle for the address from the Lord Chamberlain, Earl Peel and the monarch’s private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt.