How Prince Philip enjoyed his final years

Prince Philip had very much retired from public life, but the last couple of sightings before his death were rather fitting.

They were happy occasions - and occasions to cherish.

Several weddings were among them, the latest in May 2019, when Lady Gabriella Windsor married at the Castle where the Duke had watched Harry and Meghan do the same a year earlier in 2018.

There was the day his great-grandchild Archie made his first public appearance, Meghan revealing that they'd just bumped into the Duke and introduced them to each other.

And the day before, another kind of family occasion - lunch for members of the Royal Order of Merit saw the Duke and Sir David Attenborough rub shoulders, two great champions of wildlife preservation and conservation coming together.

David Attenborough is like the royal of conservation and he has held that role in this country for so many years," said ITV royal reporter Chris Ship.

"I think he appreciates what it is the royal family have done for conservation and the environment. It started with the Duke of Edinburgh and it's been handed down to his sons and his grandchildren."

The Queen once called him "my strength and stay" and a stayer, he certainly was. The Duke of Edinburgh was famously hardworking, retiring only when he reached the age of  96.

His last official duty was on August 2, 2017 - bowing out at a trooping ceremony for the Royal Marines at Buckingham Palace. An appropriate final engagement for a life-long navy man, and chosen because he was also retiring as their commander, a job he'd been doing since 1953.

"Had the Duke of Edinburgh not married the Queen, he would have gone on to be the First Sea Lord, the most senior position within the Royal Navy. It was his passion," said Ship.

Military passion that lasted until the very end - his final ever public appearance was in July last year when he handed over his Colonel-in-Chief role of The Rifles to the Duchess of Cornwall. 

And although Prince Philip has been the Queen's constant companion, especially over the last year as they rode out the COVID pandemic at Windsor Castle, he did like to occasionally fly solo - in fact by the official count, that "occasionally" worked out at 22,219 solo engagements and 5496 speeches.

Lucky he was good with words then, and good at pulling back the curtains - he once called himself "the world's most experienced plaque-unveiler", a nod to just how many times he'd been called upon to perform that particular task.

Prince Philip.
Prince Philip. Photo credit: Getty

His last official tasks though were much more like a well-earned treat. The Duke certainly knew how to raise an eyebrow, and not just one of his own. He was, it's fair to say, a sometimes controversial figure - the word used by his staff, off the record of course, was "bloody minded".

 A case in point was the day of a car accident in January 2019. He was 97 when his car flipped and rolled, but not only was he pictured back at the wheel of a replacement the very next day, he wasn't even wearing a seatbelt.

"The thing I think that most people are absolutely amazed by is that fact that someone of his age was able to roll down the road in his car, and then climb out through the sunroof as he did, with barely a scratch on him," said Ship. "Yes, he was taken to hospital to be checked out the next day but there was barely an injury on that guy."

A Duke of hazard on occasion, his visit to the hospital the previous year saw him become the Duke of Swagger, with a brand new hip. He was in hospital for six days though, and that inevitably prompted rumours he was gravely ill.

But he put the rumourmongers in their place by stepping out with the Queen at two of 2018's most public Royal occasions - the wedding of Princess Eugenie in October - and a few months earlier in May, Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle.

"No one was going to see him with a stick or anything else, he was making sure he was at that wedding and he was looking as fit as he possibly could be," said Ship.

They were to be the last times we saw him at a major event, still conveying the spirit we'd come to know and love - of a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. 

Mostly though there were just the occasional glimpses to be had - of a man, who was finally and deservedly enjoying old age.

"Sad to hear you're standing down," mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah once told him. "I don't think I can stand up much longer," he quipped back.

A quick wit until the end the Duke of Edinburgh 'standing up' until the grand age of 99.