Britain's Prince Philip soldiers on as he turns 90

9th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prince Philip, the husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, turns 90 on Friday but will mark the occasion with little fanfare, in keeping with his famously no-nonsense style.

The longest-serving consort in British history would have been forgiven a day off to celebrate, but the gruff patriarch did not want a fuss and will spend the day at work, hosting a reception and a colonels' conference.

Sprightly and remarkably fit, the Duke of Edinburgh shows few signs of slowing up in his old age and is as quick as ever when making quips -- some of which have famously landed him in trouble.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to him in parliament on Wednesday, saying he would keep his remarks brief as, in the prince's words, "the mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot endure."

Prince Philip has been named Oldie of the Year by The Oldie magazine, but the peppery former naval officer is not impressed.

"Well, so what? You just get old!" he told ITV television in an interview to mark his birthday.

Forthright and impatient, the duke has spent his entire life getting on with it, and he gave little away about his feelings on turning 90.

Asked if there was anything he would have done differently, he said: "I'd rather not have made the mistakes that I did make; I'm not going to tell you what they are!"

Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark, a nephew of Greek king Constantine I, was born on a kitchen table on Corfu on June 10, 1921.

After a turbulent childhood, Lieutenant Mountbatten, as he became, married in 1947, but his stellar progress in the British Royal Navy was halted when his wife became queen in 1952 and he was forced to abandon his career.

He told ITV it was "disappointing", but "being married to the queen, it seemed to me that my first duty was to serve her in the best way I could."

Since then he has carved out his own role supporting the queen, accompanying her on visits and jollying people up with his off-the-cuff remarks, which have sometimes been near the knuckle.

"You managed not to get eaten, then?" he told a British student who had trekked in Papua New Guinea, in 1998.

He is patron of some 800 organisations, and has carved a niche for himself in the fields of conservation, design and developing life skills among youngsters.

The duke was on form during the queen's historic first state visit to Ireland last month, eyeing up a freshly-poured pint of Guinness, despite it being only half an hour after breakfast.

Cameron said the duke had been "a constant companion and a source of rock-solid strength" to Queen Elizabeth.

"He has served us, the British people, with an unshakeable sense of duty."

Cameron said Britons found the duke's "inimitable" down-to-earth style "endearing" and the country owed him a "deserved debt of gratitude."

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said the duke was a "prince amongst consorts, but a king amongst characters.

"His unique turn of phrase has been a much loved feature of British public life."

MP Nicholas Soames, a grandson of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and a friend of the prince for 50 years, said he "refreshingly does not suffer fools gladly -- as I know to my cost."

Buckingham Palace has released 90 facts about the duke to mark his birthday, including that he drives a liquid petroleum gas taxi around London and designed the Inter-University Tiddlywinks Championship trophy.

The formal marking of his 90th birthday will be a service of thanksgiving at Saint George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, attended by the royal family, with a reception to follow.

The no-frills celebrations are very much in keeping with his character.

As a youth, the prince was "very boyish, but great fun, always great fun and very kind," his cousin Lady Myra Butter said.

"He hasn't really changed much as a person at all, I don't think.

"He just gets on with it. That's his motto. Just get on with it."

© 2011 AFP

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