Ten years later and even TV newsreader Fiona Bruce, at her most unctuous, failed to elicit anything positive from the Duke of Edinburgh, whose first answer was an unequivocal: “I didn’t want to do this interview.”
He managed to dismiss his 90 years on the planet in a series of staccato negatives. Traumatic childhood? “I don’t try to psychoanalyse myself.”Lack of a teenage family home? “It was no great deal. I just lived my life.” What, then, of his best chance of immortality, the Duke of Edinburgh Award: “I’ve no reason to be proud.”
Philip’s influence on Elizabeth and two future monarchs will be very much at the heart of his legacy. One thing he has agreed on is his lack of fondness for the ageing process, something he flippantly refers to as “anno domini”. At 50 he vowed he didn’t want to live to be 80.
At 80, watching the seemingly eternal Queen Mother, still appearing in public in her centenary year, he declared: “God, I don’t want to live to be 100. I can’t imagine anything worse.” Quite how he felt as his own ten-decade milestone loomed is anyone’s guess.
Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the late king were of course a hard act to follow for both the Queen and her husband, and for Philip there was that irritatingly over-productive forebear, Prince Albert, who left a daunting array of achievements from concocting the Great Exhibition to designing Balmoral Castle.
But the duke’s own contribution to the family firm is more than he could ever have imagined. As the Queen herself said on the day of their Golden Wedding in 1997: “I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.” On his role in the monarchy he did once grudgingly admit: “All I’ll say is that I’ve tried to help keep it going while I’ve been here.”
As we’ve seen, he’s helped more than 800 organisations as a more than hands-on patron, president, colonel, and there’s his eponymous award scheme. He has been the Queen’s “strength and stay”, as she put it, in what has been the most public marriage in the world, and unlike some of his more libidinous and morally bankrupt overseas royal contemporaries, he has failed to mire the House of Windsor with scandal or corruption. Of course, critics will highlight the trail of destruction caused by his “dontopedalogy” – which he defined as “the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it”.
A percentage of his so-called gaffes are jaw-droppingly rude, but most have been taken well by the recipients, or blown out of proportion by thrilled journalists and by an increasingly politically correct and ready-to-be-outraged world, to be fair.
His role as a father has also had mixed results. His tough love approach alienated the sensitive young Charles, who sought solace with his grandmother, though he proved a fine role model for the more resilient Anne.
His indulgence of Andrew and Edward, neither of whom were to be high achievers like their father, or models of diligence like their mother, has had its repercussions over the years. Edward’s involvement with It’s a Royal Knockout was a low point for the monarchy but a tiny blip compared with Andrew’s baffling, ill-advised, friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. We’ve seen how he tried to help his daughters-in-law Diana and Sarah until both went too far – Diana with her Panorama interview and Fergie with her topless, toe-sucking debacle.
He is hugely popular with all eight grandchildren and it’s a shame he wasn’t playing an active role in the royal family’s future at the time of Harry and Meghan’s decision to move abroad.
Philip left Sandringham moments before Harry arrived for the summit with the Queen, Charles and William that would decide his future relationship with the family firm. His unwillingness to meet the grandson he had, not so long before, admired for his war record and his charity work, including the Invictus Games, was a definite snub to the younger prince. After all, Philip had spent the best part of seven decades sublimating his own desires and ambitions to those of his wife and the monarchy.
Harry’s decision to throw in the towel in search of personal goals, proved, according to one family friend “for his grandpa hugely disappointing and a dereliction of duty”. Like the Sussexes, Prince Philip has grown to detest the media. In their case it was for personal attacks or encroaching photographers; for the duke it was the resulting trivialisation of the monarchy that has upset him the most.
While Harry and Meghan are fixated by themselves, the Duke of Edinburgh resolutely refused to reflect publicly on his life: “I am not going to write an autobiography,” he once said. “I don’t spend a lot of time looking back.”
Inevitably the media will spend a lot of time looking back over the next few years. There will be page after page about his outspokenness and his private life, but the newspapers know their readership well, and also know that, at grassroots level, the Duke of Edinburgh has many fans and admirers. They know he has embodied the old-fashioned virtues of duty, self-sacrifice and service, quite literally, to Queen and country.
Indeed, his World War II contemporaries would regard it all as second nature, along with the joshing sense of humour, so loved by Philip, that helped boost morale.
Like them, and the Queen, he is the last of a truly remarkable generation.