15 Things You Didn’t Know About Prince Philip
He's so much more than Queen Elizabeth II's husband—for his 99th birthday on June 10, find out all about this amazingly accomplished British royal.
Prince Philip turns one year short of a century
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, might be best known for his somewhat gruff demeanor, naughty sense of humor, and occasional off-color gaffes. But he’s also faithfully served the British people and supported his wife, Queen Elizabeth II since she took the throne 68 years ago—the longest reign in British royal history and the fourth-longest in the world. When she became the monarch back in 1952, Prince Philip admits he was unsure of his role. “There was no precedent. I’ve asked somebody, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ They all looked blank. They had no idea,” he told the BBC in his 90th birthday interview. Now turning 99 on June 10, it’s clear he figured it out. Let’s take a look at some little-known facts and accomplishments of this near-centenarian: Unlike the things Queen Elizabeth doesn’t want you to know about Prince Philip, these are the successes he should be proud of.
He’s the longest-serving consort in British royal history
Prince Philip didn’t retire until he was 96 years old—30 years after the usual age of retirement for most people. As the longest-serving “consort” (spouse of the monarch) ever, Prince Philip undertook 22,191 official solo engagements and gave 5,493 speeches during his career. Joking that he is the “world’s most experienced plaque unveiler,” Prince Philip has also championed many important causes including scientific research, industry, and the environment. Even after his retirement, he continued as a member of 780 organizations. When told by a well-wisher, “I’m sorry you’re standing down,” the cheeky prince replied, “Well I can’t stand up much longer!” If you’re wondering, here’s the real reason why Prince Philip isn’t “King Philip.”
He’s not the oldest British royal family member ever
Although he’s nearly 100, Prince Philip still hasn’t beaten the record for the oldest British royal family member in history. That honor belongs to Princess Alice, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle (her father’s younger brother, Henry, Duke of Gloucester). She died in 2004 at the age of 102. Queen Elizabeth’s mother, also called Queen Elizabeth and known as the Queen Mother, was very long-lived as well and was the first royal family member to make it to 100. She died in 2002 at the age of 101. But, Prince Philip is the oldest male British royal family member in history. All three of the longest-lived royals entered the family by marriage; the oldest British royal by descent was another Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter who died in 1981 at the age of 97. Prince Philip, though, holds the record of the longest-lived of Queen Victoria’s many descendants throughout the royal families of Europe. And yes, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are secretly related.
He’s very modest
Although Prince Philip is known for candidly speaking his mind, he’s surprisingly mum when it comes to the topic of himself. But as would be necessary to stay married to one of the most powerful women in the world, the down-to-earth Duke doesn’t need the spotlight to be focused on him. “My father plain and simply is very modest about himself and doesn’t believe in talking about himself,” his youngest son, Prince Edward, told the BBC. “One of his best pieces of advice he gives to everybody is talk about everything else, don’t talk about yourself—nobody’s interested in you.” Case in point: When asked by the BBC if he thought he had been successful in his role, he replied, “Who cares what I think, I mean it’s ridiculous.” It was one of the times the royal family was brutally honest with the media.
He thanked essential workers in a heartfelt letter
But Prince Philip is not shy about cheering for the successes of others. In his first public message since his retirement, the Duke recently penned a letter profusely thanking healthcare and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. He even made sure to mention the garbage collectors. “As we approach World Immunization Week, I wanted to recognize the vital and urgent work being done by so many to tackle the pandemic; by those in the medical and scientific professions, at universities and research institutions, all united in working to protect us from COVID-19,” he wrote on the official royal website. “On behalf of those of us who remain safe and at home, I also wanted to thank all key workers who ensure the infrastructure of our life continues; the staff and volunteers working on food production and distribution, those keeping postal and delivery services going, and those ensuring the rubbish continues to be collected.”
He normally doesn’t live with the Queen
Although he reunited with his wife at Windsor Castle during the quarantine, after his retirement Prince Philip actually moved out of the Queen’s working residence of Buckingham Palace. But this reportedly isn’t due to any marital rift; rather, the Duke prefers the quiet life of Wood Farm on the royal Sandringham estate, away from the bustle of the palace. Royal biographer Penny Junor says it’s just part of the Duke (and the Queen’s) longing for a simpler life. “They are very modest. They like being in a smaller cozier house, and not having to have all the staff,” she told the Daily Beast. “We may dream of living in a palace surrounded by flunkies, but they dream of being like us.” Here’s the true story of how Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip fell in love.
This food is off his menu
Prince Philip and the Queen also enjoy rather simple food, and they flat-out dislike a certain delicacy: oysters. According to Dinner at Buckingham Palace, written by royal servant Charles Oliver, “inevitably there are one or two things the Queen and her husband do not like, and the hosts are duly warned in advance. The palace instruction states only: ‘Neither the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh like oysters.'” Prince Philip also prefers a gin and tonic or lager to fancy champagne. But, the Duke is a somewhat adventurous eater compared to his wife. “Prince Philip was the foodie,” former royal chef Darren McGrady told Hello!. “He’d want to try any new dishes all the time and got excited about new ingredients.” Find out other bizarre eating habits of the royal family, according to their personal chef.
He helped create a sport
While living at Wood Farm, the retired Duke enjoyed carriage driving—driving old-fashioned carriages pulled by horses—a hobby he’s been interested in since the 1970s. “I decided I’d give up polo when I was 50, he said in a 2017 interview. “I was looking round to see what next, I didn’t know what there was available. And I suddenly thought, well, we’ve got horses and carriages, so I thought why don’t I have a go.” The Duke actually helped set up the international rules for the sport, and also penned a book on the topic, Competition Carriage Driving, in 1994. But, he wasn’t always great at it. “The second competition I entered was the European championship. I came in not quite last, but very nearly,” he said. One antique carriage “had to be rebuilt up every year because it got smashed regularly.”
He’s an artist and designer
In retirement, Prince Philip also has time for one of his other pursuits: painting. An art exhibition for his 90th birthday in 2011 celebrated his works as an artist, displaying his paintings as well as his designs for jewelry, including a bracelet for his wife, and stained-glass windows that were part of the Windsor Castle restoration after it was damaged in a fire. One of the most striking works Prince Philip has ever painted features a subject he knows well: the Queen in a very private moment, simply reading the newspaper, in The Queen at Breakfast, Windsor Castle, in 1965. Prince Philip’s pet name for Queen Elizabeth will melt your heart.
He’s not a “bunny hugger”
Despite his surprising soft side, he doesn’t have much room for sentiment when talking about the importance of conservation. He tried to explain why he didn’t consider himself “green” in a BBC interview. “I think that there’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny hugger…people who simply love animals,” he said, making the interviewer chuckle at the phrase. “When I was president of WWF I got more letters about the way animals were treated in zoos than any concern about the survival of the species. People can’t get their heads around the idea of a species surviving, you know, they’re more concerned about how you treat a donkey in Sicily or something.”
He’s an environmentalist
But he does feel passionate about protecting the planet. “If we’ve got this extraordinary diversity on this globe it seems awfully silly for us to destroy it,” he told the BBC. “All these other creatures have an equal right to exist here. We have no prior rights to the earth than anybody else and if they’re here let’s give them a chance to survive.” According to the royal website, Prince Philip began traveling by electric car in the 1960s because he was concerned about pollution from exhaust fumes. The environmentally-minded Duke has also used an LPG (gas) powered vehicle to get around London as well. Check out these rarely seen photos of Prince Philip.
He created a youth achievement award
Inspired by his teacher Kurt Hahn at the Gordonstoun School he attended as a boy, Prince Philip established the Duke of Edinburgh Award way back in 1956. It’s not a competition, but a program based on personal achievement in four areas: volunteer service, physical fitness, skills, and “adventurous journey,” an expedition on foot, bicycle, boat, kayak, or horseback. “It’s what I like to describe as a ‘do-it-yourself’ growing-up kit,” Prince Philip says on the royal website. The program is available in over 140 countries around the world and has helped millions of teens develop confidence and know-how to face challenges and succeed in adulthood. But in his typically modest fashion, he took no credit when the BBC asked about the program. “I don’t run it—I’ve said it’s all fairly secondhand, the whole business,” he said. “I mean, I eventually got landed with the responsibility or the credit for it. I’ve got no reason to be proud of it. It’s satisfying that we’ve set up a formula that works, that’s it.”
His mother was a nun
Fans of Netflix’s The Crown may have been surprised to learn in season three that Prince Philip’s mother became a nun, but it’s totally true. Otherwise known as Princess Alice of Battenberg, she was born in England but married a Greek prince, and lived in Greece until the family was forced into exile. She endured mental health issues and was consulted by renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud. After helping Jews escape the Nazis in World War II, she established an order of nuns in Greece until she was once again forced to leave the country during a military coup in 1967. As in The Crown, she was able to reconnect with her son before her death at Buckingham Palace in 1969. And like her son, she was modest. “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action [of sheltering Jews] was in any way special,” Prince Philip said of his mother. “She was a person with deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress.” But here’s what The Crown gets wrong about the British royal family.
He’s a war hero
Prince Philip accomplished much in his youth as a member of the Royal Navy starting at age 18 as a midshipman. In World War II, he was mentioned in dispatches (reports to high-ranking officers) for his searchlight control in the March 1941 Battle of Matapan off Greece. He was also awarded the Greek War Cross of Valor. Another story of Prince Philip’s wartime heroics came to light in 2002, when a fellow veteran told the story of how one night under heavy bombardment the Duke had the idea to divert the attention of a German plane by throwing a raft and smoke floats overboard. The ruse worked, and the ship was able to escape. “Prince Philip saved our lives that night,” the veteran said. Philip was named Admiral of the Fleet in 1953.
He’s a pilot
Like his grandsons Princes William and Harry, Prince Philip is also a flyboy. Named Marshal of the Royal Air Force (RAF) among his other service appointments, Prince Philip became an RAF pilot in 1953, as well as a helicopter pilot in 1956. He also earned his private pilot’s license in 1959. According to the royal website, the airman has logged 5,986 hours in 59 types of aircraft. His last flight was on August 11, 1997, to the Scottish Isle of Islay. Prince Philip was also the first member of the royal family ever to fly out of Buckingham Palace Garden in a helicopter. Here are more hidden talents of the British royal family.
He may pass his title to his son Prince Edward
Royal rumor has it that there’s a reason Prince Edward is the only one of the royal couple’s three sons without a dukedom. Prince Charles is the Duke of Cornwall and Prince Andrew is the Duke of York; but Prince Edward is the lower-ranking Earl of Wessex. (Wessex, an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England, isn’t even an actual location in Britain any more—supposedly, Prince Edward was a fan of the movie Shakespeare in Love, which featured a character named Lord Wessex.) Royal watchers believe Prince Edward, who some say is the Queen and Prince Philip’s favorite child will become Duke of Edinburgh after Philip dies. The title will have to be bestowed upon him by the monarch, either Queen Elizabeth or her heir, Prince Charles. Prince Edward is also very involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award, leading to further speculation the title may go to him, as he has taken over many of his father’s duties. Find out more about what will happen when Prince Philip dies.