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'Still throwing spears?': The gaffe-prone Prince who was the 'strength' behind British throne

At the ripe old age of 95, Prince Philip has announced his retirement from official royal duties.

Britain Royals Source: John Stillwell

TODAY, BUCKINGHAM PALACE announced that Prince Philip would be retiring from royal duties at the ripe old age of 95.

Despite his advancing years, and occasional poor health, the monarch has remained an active, conducting 219 royal engagements last year.

He is approaching the 70th anniversary of marrying Queen Elizabeth II, and is already the longest-serving consort in British history.

Especially in later years, the gaffe-prone former Royal Navy officer usually only made the news for the wrong reasons.

However, he was also acknowledged as the “strength” behind the British throne by the Queen, herself, with observers noting that he was the glue that held the family together during the divorces of three of his children.

 “Dearest Pa”

Philip met the then Princess Elizabeth just before the outbreak of World War II, and they exchanged letters while he served with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and the Pacific.

Queen Elizabeth Celebrates 91st Birthday Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth on their honeymoon in 1947. Source: Keystone Press Agency/Zuma Press/PA

After their marriage in 1947, they spent time in Malta, where he was posted – only for their lives to be changed overnight by the premature death of her father, King George VI, in 1952.

He once admitted the curtailment of his career was “disappointing”, but said that “being married to the queen, it seemed to me that my first duty was to serve her in the best way I could”.

Philip was an early supporter of the conservation movement, serving as the first president of the British branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from its foundation in 1961 to 1982.

He also gave his name to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a youth achievement scheme offering a range of physical and mental challenges to build confidence and life skills.

In a rare interview to mark his 90th birthday, the prince admitted he had carved out his role by “trial and error”.

“There was no precedent. If I asked somebody, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ they all looked blank. They had no idea,” he told the BBC.

Royalty - Prince William Christening - Buckingham Palace The Royal Family on the day of Prince William's christening. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

In a sign of his importance as the family linchpin, the late Princess Diana addressed him as “Dearest Pa” in letters in which he offered solace over her deteriorating marriage to his eldest son, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.


As the monarch grew older, he gained notoriety for his often bizarre one liners at his many public engagements.

While these quotes endeared him to some, they also caused embarrassment and consternation among others.

Here are some of his more infamous pronouncements:

“Who do you sponge off?”

Royal visit to Barking and Dagenham Source: PA Archive/PA Images

At this visit to a community centre in Chadwell Heath, London, Philip asked a group of women “who do you sponge off?”.

“[Children] go to school because their parents don’t want them in the house”

Reception for Youth, Education and the Commonwealth Source: Yui Mok PA Archive/PA Images

This is what he said to Malala Yousafazai, a young woman who’d survived a Taliban assassination attempt after campaigning for girls to go to school.

“Just take the fucking picture”

75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain Source: Steve Parsons PA Archive/PA Images

The Prince lost patience while awaiting a group photo to be taken during a Battle of Britain commemoration in 2015.

“If you’re near that music, it’s no wonder you’re deaf”

Duke Award Source: PA Archive/PA Images

This is what he said to children from the British Deaf Association, who were standing by a Caribbean steel band in 1999.

“Still throwing spears?”

Royalty - Duke of Edinburgh talks to Aboriginal performers - Cairns Source: Fiona Hanson PA Archive/PA Images

What he said to Aboriginal performers at an Australian festival in 2002.

“Well, you’ll never fly in it, you’re too fat”

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to the United States of America Source: Fiona Hanson PA Archive/PA Images

A 13-year-old has his dreams of space travel shattered in 2001.

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“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?”

Royal Windsor Horse Show - Day 2 Source: Steve Parsons PA Archive/PA Images

He put a Scottish driving instructor on the spot with this question in 1995.

“You managed not to get eaten, then?”

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee - Papua New Guinea Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Speaking to students who’d trekked through Papua New Guinea in 1998.

“If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed”

Royalty - Queen State Visit to China - Great Wall of China Source: EMPICS Entertainment

A comment to a group of British students during a visit to China in 1986.

“You are a woman, aren’t you?”

Royalty - Queen Tour of Kenya - Treetops Hotel Source: PA Images

He felt the need to double-check with a woman presenting him with gifts in Kenya in 1984.

“I declare this thing open, whatever it is”

Duke attends renaming ceremony for ship Source: Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment

Showing some good statesmanlike qualities on a Canadian visit in 1986.

“That looks beautiful doesn’t it, darling?”

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland Source: Maxwells PA Archive/PA Images

We’re not 100% sure he actually said this last one.

With reporting from AFP

Read: Buckingham Palace confirms Prince Philip to ‘stand down from Royal duties’

Read: The Sun has mistakenly reported that Prince Philip has died

About the author:

Sean Murray

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