13 things you didn't know about Prince Philip's eventful life

Following the sad death of Prince Philip at the age of age 99, we take a look back at his life

prince philip wearing a hat
(Image credit: Nigel Treblin/Getty Images)

As the world mourns the loss of Prince Philip, who has sadly died aged 99, we take a look back at his eventful life.

The Duke of Edinburgh celebrated many happy moments over the years, including the birth of four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren (with an 11th due this summer).

Although the Prince officially retired from royal duties in August 2017, he was invariably still pictured at his family's side to celebrate many special royal moments that will live on in our memories for decades to come.

To mark the amazing contribution he made during in his lifetime, we take a look at some fascinating facts you never knew about Prince Philip.

He had a turbulent early start in life

Born in Corfu on 10 June 1921 at Villa Mon Repos (the Greek Royals’ summer home), Philip was the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. He was given the title Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark. 

The family was forced to flee when he was just 18 months old when a military revolt ousted his uncle from the throne.

To ensure the family's safe passage, Prince Philip's uncle, King George V, ordered a Royal Navy ship to collect them – with the prince safely stowed away in a cot fashioned from an orange box!

He had four elder sisters

Prince Philip had four older sisters – who are all now deceased – Princesses Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Sophie. His sister Cecilie was killed in a plane crash when the Duke was 16. 

He was a favorite among staff at the palace

According to actor Matt Smith, who played the man himself in the first two seasons of Netfilx's The Crown, Prince Philip was a huge hit among Buckingham Palace staff.

"All the research I did found him to be brilliantly funny, very clever, very popular," he explained in an interview with Variety. "In the royal house he’s the most popular of all of them. If you’ve talked to any of the staff, Philip’s the one they all love really."

He added, "The royal protocol hasn’t dogged him in quite the same way his whole life and there’s a sort of rebellion in him and a naughtiness and a cheekiness. I think he’s quite affable and open by all accounts with the staff. They all love him."

He was the Queen's fourth cousin

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, making them fourth cousins. 

He first met the Queen when she was just 13

The Prince and the Queen first met at the wedding of his cousin, Princess Marina of Greece to the Duke of Kent, in 1934, when he was 18 and she 13. As a cadet in the Royal Navy he was just due to leave shortly afterwards. 

A letter penned by Elizabeth in 1947, aged 21, reveals that "I only saw him very occasionally when he was on leave - I suppose about twice in three years".

The future couple maintained their connection by writing letters to each other over a period of several years, and eventually married on November 20th, 1947.

He committed an heroic act while serving in the navy

Serving in the Royal Navy during World War Two, he and his shipmates realised that their vessel, the HMS Wallace, was under significant threat of enemy attack. Thinking on his feet, the Prince suggested throwing a decoy in the water in the form of a wooden raft smoke floats in an attempt to divert the bombers, hoping that it would become the target and give them a window to escape.

As one veteran later recalled, "The sound of the aircraft grew louder until I thought it was directly overhead and I screwed up my shoulders in anticipation of the bombs. The next thing was the scream of the bombs, but at some distance.

"The ruse had worked and the aircraft was bombing the raft... Prince Philip saved our lives that night."

He championed the advent of television

When the Prince became chair of the Coronation Commission in 1952 he was said to have played a pivotal role in ensuring that the Queen's Coronation – which took place in June 1953 – was televised, despite concerns expressed by the Queen Mother and Prime Minster Winston Churchill, among others.

The Prince was also the first member of the royal family to do a televised interview in 1961. He was interviewed by Richard Dimbleby on his involvement with Commonwealth Technical Training Week.

He was a qualified pilot

The Duke mastered the art of flying with the RAF in 1953, and went on to get his helicopter wings with the Royal Navy in 1956 and his Private Pilots License in 1959. He showed off his piloting skills to full effect when he became the first ever member of the royal family to fly out of Buckingham Palace Garden in a helicopter.

He was a 'graduate' – despite holding no formal qualifications

According to The Telegraph, the Prince – who was educated at an independent school Gordonstoun – held no formal qualifications. However, during his lifetime he was awarded several honorary qualifications.

This included an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Delhi, awarded in 1959, and an Honorary Doctorate of Marine Science from Plymouth University – in recognition of his decorated career in the Royal Navy – awarded in 2012.

He was worshipped in the Pacific Nation of Vanuatu

Prince Philip facts

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The Prince Philip movement describes a religious sect followed by the Kastom people around Yaohnanen village on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

According to ancient legend, a band of warriors left the island to fight a war to protect and preserve their culture, with the leader of the warriors destined to return with a powerful and rich white wife.

When the Royal Family visited Vanuatu in 1974 – then known as New Hebrides – as part of a Commonwealth Tour, they didn't visit the remote community. However, the Prince is said to have handed a symbolic white pig to a Tanna man in the country's capital, Port Vila. It is believed that this gesture was seen as an indication that the prophecy was fulfilled.

"For them Philip is a tabu man – human but possessing qualities and powers that make him sacred," Matthew Baylis, the British author of Man Belong Mrs Queen: My Adventures with the Philip Worshippers who spent time living with the villagers, told ABC.

He was a keen gardener

The Prince gradually redesigned the gardens at Balmoral Castle, the Royal Family's Scottish home, over the years. He even formed a water garden, which he dug out himself using a bulldozer.

He burnt off expectant father nerves by playing squash

The Queen endured a 30-hour labor for the birth of the couple's first child, Prince Charles, who was born on 14 November 1948. Prince Philip spent a portion of this time playing squash with his private secretary, followed up with a swim in the palace pool. He then hurriedly dried himself off when a footman informed him of Charles' arrival.

On seeing his new son he is said to have exclaimed, "He looks like a plum pudding!"

He was a dab hand at barbecuing 

Another of the late Duke's skills was firing up the barbecue in the summer months. In a statement issued a few days after his death, Prince Harry described his grandfather as "master of the barbecue".

The Duke of Sussex also described Prince Philip as a "legend of banter" and "cheeky right 'til the end."

Miriam worked for woman&home for over five years and previously worked on the women's lifestyle magazines Woman and Woman's Own.