It must be some sort of record: Prince Philip, the often cranky husband of Queen Elizabeth II, turned 90 on Friday, which surely makes him Britain's oldest and longest-serving royal spouse in 10 centuries.
Still in robust health, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he is formally known, celebrated the day with his usual round of official duties at Buckingham Palace, including hosting a lunch for a charity that helps the deaf. Outside, the Band of the Irish Guards played Happy Birthday, delighting the tourists gathered to see the Changing of the Guard. The queen, who turned 85 in April, made her husband, a former British naval officer, the Lord High Admiral of the Navy, giving him a centuries-old title she had held since 1964. Other honors included a 62-gun salute and the striking of a Royal Mint coin with his image on one side and the queen on the other. The royal family is set to mark the milestone on Sunday with a service of thanksgiving at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle followed by a reception.
On Friday, some in the British media praised him - The Daily Telegraph said he had helped make the queen's reign a success - while others made fun of his tendency to make funny, sharp, insensitive or even racially offensive remarks in public. On his birthday, The Independent published a list of 90 notorious gaffes by Philip, such as the time he said to a woman in a wheelchair, "Do people trip over you?" and the time he remarked, "It's a vast waste of space," after the queen opened a $29.5 million British Embassy in Berlin.
"The simple answer to the riddle of the gaffes seems to be that he gets a kick out of being the center of attention," wrote British journalist Tom Sykes on The Daily Beast.
But in public Philip is not supposed to be the center of attention because he is just the husband of the sovereign, always walking a few steps, as per protocol, behind his wife. This could not have been so easy for a macho man, famously prickly and proud, like Philip, who is said to have had tense relationships with some of his children, such as eldest son Prince Charles, over the years. Still, the palace estimates Philip has made about 5,000 speeches and thousands more public appearances with the queen in the 64 years they have been married and the 59 years she has been on the throne. Philip told the BBC he planned to wind down his public schedule now that he's reached this age.
Philip, like his wife, is descended from Queen Victoria and from Danish royalty, but his immediate family were exiled Greek royals. He was born on the Greek island of Corfu but his family was banished from Greece when he was still a baby. He grew up and attended school in Britain as the nephew of Lord Mountbatten, his maternal uncle, who was close to his Windsor relations and helped arrange for him to meet the young Princess Elizabeth, who fell hard for the tall and handsome blond prince. Philip became a British citizen when they married in 1947, and he gave up his naval career when she became queen in 1952.
Philip acknowledged in a television interview to mark his birthday that he was nearing his "sell-by date" and that his memory for names was fading. "I reckon I've done my bit. I want to enjoy myself for a bit now. With less responsibility, less rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say," he said. "Yes, I'm just sort of winding down."