On Friday morning we all received the sad news that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Consort to Her Majesty the Queen, had died peacefully while at home at the age of 99. While in some ways it was not unexpected, many of us were moved by it. He has been such a central part of the Royal Family and our national story for so many years. Having been married to the Queen for 73 years, he was the longest-serving Royal consort in history.
We all understood that he had offered huge support to the Queen throughout her reign. However, like many others, through the many tributes and obituaries, I actually found that I learned new things about his life story that I hadn’t realised before. In particular his early childhood and how he and his family had to leave Corfu and how, as a baby, he made the journey in a crib made from an orange box. He fought in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in the Mediterranean in 1941.
Reflecting on his life is also a reminder that he was a forward-thinking man who embraced new ideas and was ahead of his time in many areas. He was fascinated by engineering and technology and championed these industries all his life and embraced new ideas on the Royal estates and new technology within the Palace. He was instrumental in the decision to open the Royal Family up to make them more accessible, persuading the Queen to participate in a televised documentary during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was also passionate about environmental issues long before they became fashionable. He had spotted in the 1960s that the way we were living posed a threat to nature and that we had to change our ways. He was the first president and a co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund which has championed nature across the world ever since.
He was famous for straight-talking and we will all recall moments where reports of his latest colourful intervention have raised a smile. Those who knew him well say that this was more often than not his way of breaking through stilted formality, of breaking the ice to put people at ease or to put things in perspective and challenge people to recognise what mattered in life and not to stand on ceremony too much - although he did his share of that too.
He was also someone who believed passionately in the potential of the next generation and the importance of supporting young people to find their vocation and develop the confidence to thrive. A large part of his legacy will be the long-running Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Many will have memories of taking part in the D of E Scheme while at school or college; discovering an opportunity to build confidence, work with others and grow and learn vital life skills. The scheme has allowed many over the last 60 years, particularly from poorer backgrounds, to support their local community and improve their chances in life.
This Saturday we will all pause to reflect on his huge contribution to British National life throughout his 99 years.