Inside looking out

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Prince Philip did not have any constitutional position in the Palace, but his sheer strength of character has transformed the monarchy like no one else. With the exception of his wife, the Queen. 

The Duke of Edinburgh was a famously reluctant consort, but his loyalty and service to the Royal Family was unyielding. By the time he retired from official public life, aged 96, he had represented Britain in more than 22,000 solo engagements. 

His reputation ranges from witty and affable to stern and downright racist. In the hit series The Crown, Prince Charles is portrayed as a harsh, frigid father who has trouble accepting a supporting role to Queen Elizabeth. 

The world he was born into placed him in the line of succession to the Greek throne. But his destiny was summarily disrupted when his father was banished from Greece following a coup d’état in 1922. Aged just one, baby Philip will not have had any memories of the scramble out of Corfu aboard a British warship. 

His educational journey started in France before his family moved to Surrey in England when the prince was seven. He was later sent to a boarding school in Germany led by Kurt Hahn, but the pioneering educator of Jewish origin fled to Scotland amid rising persecution by the Nazi. Philip followed him to Gordonstoun, which instilled in him the hardy, self-reliant nature he was later to become known for. 

To a man without a land to truly call home, a young Philip was enamoured of the seas. He became a cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where he met Elizabeth, then a teenage princess, for the first time.

Philip’s stars seemed to finally align in the post-war years when, freshly married to the love of his life, he was appointed to the command of the HMS Magpie in 1950. 

That was all to change less than a year later, when King George VI died, and Princess Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Forced to adapt to life as a royal consort, Philip devoted his energies and skills to set up the Duke of Edinburgh Award, promoting community service, entrepreneurship, physical activity, and leadership among young people. 

He was a staunch advocate for environmental care and wildlife preservation long before it was fashionably mainstream, and was appointed the first president of the World Wide Fund for Nature. 

The Duke of Edinburgh showed an impatience with ceremonial pomp and circumstance, even while he was on official duty on behalf of the Royal Family. His frequent gaffes have filled books and, as time went by, they have come to be seen less as outlandish comments and more as deep-seated prejudice. 

Prince Philip died just two months short of his 100th birthday. He lived a remarkable life in a remarkable century of rapid changes. He is equally praised for helping the Royal Family adapt to social transformations and criticised for being out of touch. 

The Duke of Edinburgh often cut a solitary figure, a man at the right time but in the wrong place. But as long as the world continues its relentless march away from notions of exclusion, history will likely look with sympathy towards a prince who seemed to be on the inside, looking out. 

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