THE Queen will today spend her first day in 69 years as monarch without her husband — the devoted shadow following “two steps behind”.
Ever loyal, Prince Philip was always seen walking at least a couple of paces back, so marking his position in the “order of precedence”.
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The Duke of Edinburgh has been “her rock” since they married in 1947, later commenting: “My job first, second and last is never to let the Queen down”.
He will be remembered for many things — war hero, reformer, conservationist and acerbic wit — but, unusually for a man of his generation, it is his role as husband for which will be best recalled.
The duke, who fondly referred to his wife as “cabbage”, spent 25,265 days at her side — or just behind it — following her accession on February 6, 1952.
He was the longest-serving consort of any British monarch, and although the Queen is used to holding her emotions in check, she will miss him dreadfully.
It is believed they first met at a family wedding when the Queen, now 96, was just eight.
She fell for the handsome Greek prince, her third cousin, in 1939.
She was with her parents, King George VI and the Queen Mother, when the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert was anchored off Dartmouth, Kent.
By pure fate, Philip, by then serving in the British Navy, was chosen to meet the then-princess because two naval cadets nominated to do so both had mumps.
The couple exchanged letters and romance flickered, with the future Duke spending Christmas 1943 at Windsor Castle.
The couple exchanged photographs and Philip romanced Elizabeth after his naval training. The King then agreed that they could marry.
Royal biographer Sir John Wheeler-Bennett said: “This was the man with whom Princess Elizabeth had been in love from their first meeting.”
Philip renounced his Greek title and became a naturalised British subject when he married Elizabeth, then 21, at Westminster Abbey in the March of 1947. He also gave up smoking on the day.
Two weeks later Philip, who had to abandon a promising naval career, wrote to his mother saying: “Lilibet is the only thing in this world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence.”
He was to lose contact with his mother for many years when she was consigned to an asylum following a breakdown.
In 1948, an heir to the throne arrived in Charles, followed by Anne in 1950. Andrew came along in 1960, Edward in 1964.
Philip and the Queen shared an unbreakable bond, united at key moments in history.
While private secretaries and household staff came and went, Philip remained her one constant.
The royal couple travelled the globe to attend thousands of engagements made all the more bearable by one another’s company.
Philip sometimes complained of feeling cold at night because he had thrown off the bedclothes “waving” to crowds in his sleep.
The couple knew that they were in it as a duo, albeit with one wearing the crown.
With just five years separating them, they viewed the changing world from a shared standpoint.
They saw rapid advances in technology, from man walking on the moon to the arrival of the internet.
Philip was a moderniser, overhauling the running of Buckingham Palace and their private homes — Sandringham, in Norfolk, and Balmoral in Scotland.
Behind the scenes, he was also the head of the family, dubbed The Firm.
Royal Historian Hugo Vickers said: “He was an interesting figure. It’s only now we’ll discover the full extent of what he’s been doing. People will be surprised at it all.
“He’ll be remembered for his vigorous support of the Queen. After Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) died, information came out about all the things he’d started and got moving.”
Philip set up the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme but he was also a prolific writer on environmental, technological, equestrian and animal subjects.
Mr Vickers added: “People think he was a cantankerous figure, making gaffes, but what I think he was doing was trying to get a rise out of people.
"When in public, he was a bit of a nightmare because he could upset people but what he was doing was trying to use his time as best he could.
“If you painted a picture, the Queen would probably say ‘That’s a nice picture’. The Duke would probably say: ‘Why’s it green when it should be blue?’.
They are the most incredibly supportive couple to each other. I think he is her rock, really, and she is his
“It would mean you would have to explain that you painted it that way because the light made it look green at a certain time of day.
“The Queen can’t do that. She had to be more cautious. But the Duke could come in all guns firing. He was a brilliant character.”
Mr Vickers added that the Duke was a stoic despite a difficult and turbulent childhood.
He was only 18 months old when exiled from Greece and was shunted between relatives after his father abandoned him.
Mr Vickers said: “He once said, ‘My mother was ill and my father had gone away. I just had to get on with it’.”
Philip showed a softer side to his character with Princess Diana, who came to call him “Pa”.
He taught her the secrets of royal protocol on her first trip to Balmoral and counselled her when her relationship with Prince Charles was falling apart in the early 1990s.
The Queen missed him badly on the very few occasions he was kept away from his royal duties.
During their Diamond Jubilee celebrations, she cut a solitary figure as she walked through St Paul’s without her husband, who was in hospital with a bladder infection.
Princess Eugenie, their granddaughter, said: “They are the most incredibly supportive couple to each other.
"Grandpa was unfortunately taken ill and for Granny to come and do that alone was probably quite testing. I think he is her rock, really, and she is his.”
By the time he retired in 2017, aged 96, Philip had undertaken 22,219 solo engagements and 637 overseas tours. He had also made 5,496 speeches and written 14 books.
He went to Sandringham while the Queen ploughed on. Because of Covid, they spent almost every day of the past year together.
They celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary at Windsor Castle and were together for 107 consecutive days before he went to hospital with heart trouble on February 17.
In 1997, the Queen said of her husband: “Philip is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments.”
In a TV interview Prince Harry summed it up perfectly, when he said: “I don’t think she could have done her job without him.”
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