Prince Philip Lived a Life Devoted to Duty | Opinion

Nobody below the age of 75 who lives in the United Kingdom can remember a time when Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was not a major public figure. With his passing at the age of 99, our links with those who, like him, fought in the Second World War become largely historical. In the early 1950s, this handsome young naval officer expected many years of marriage to his wife—Princess Elizabeth as she then was—before she took her place on the throne. Yet as fate would have it, King George VI became seriously ill and died in February 1952 at the age of only 56. This marked the moment that Philip was thrust onto the world stage where he remained—playing second fiddle to the queen—for very nearly 70 years.

The duke's life in war and in peace was devoted to duty. He was a truly remarkable man, a visionary in environmental and conservation matters, and the longest-serving royal consort in British history. What a contrast his life represents when compared with the current duke and duchess of Sussex. Just think—Prince Philip did not retire from public life until he was 96 years old. The sheer volume of the work he undertook with the queen, year after year, is hard to grasp.

At the heart of this punishing schedule was the monarch's commitment to the Commonwealth of Nations, an extraordinary friendship organization made up of Britain's former colonies. From their first three-month tour of Australia in 1954, when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip criss-crossed so much of that vast country that an estimated 75 percent of the population saw them at least once, they selflessly visited the world's continents in order to forge deeper relations between the U.K. and the member states. Most of that time was spent in countries with mainly black or Asian populations. Despite the stresses and strains of life away from home, at no point did the queen or Prince Philip complain publicly. They just kept going.

As Britain enters a period of mourning, nobody should underestimate how much Philip's passing will mean to so many of the 2.5 billion people who live in the Commonwealth. Since his retirement in 2017, he has been seen in public only rarely when attending important anniversaries or royal weddings. A car crash near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk when he was 97 was the first clue that his characteristic sharpness was waning.

Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in November 1947
Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in 19th November 1947. Prince Philip passed away on April 9 2021 aged 99. Keystone/Getty Images

Physical decline in anybody's life once they reach a certain age is inevitable. Everybody knows that death is coming, though few choose to mention it. In the third week of February, shortly after Prince Philip was admitted to hospital, I spoke to a prominent British royal correspondent who works in television and asked him what the situation really was regarding the prince's health. I was told that he was being kept alive on drugs and would be moved so that he could die at Windsor Castle. His 100th birthday celebrations, scheduled to be held on June 10, were considered very unlikely to happen. None of this was said in public, but everyone in the media knew it, as of course did the royal family.

Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah Winfrey took place around the same time as my meeting with that royal correspondent. Everything that was said in that interview has been dissected. Specific claims—such as their allegations about a backstreet wedding officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury three days before the official royal wedding—have proved to be totally untrue. The non-specific charge of racism against the royal family cannot be proved or disproved because Meghan has refused to name the person who she says made the racist remark in question.

One thing that is absolutely certain, however, is that when the interview was broadcast in America on March 7, and in Britain the following day, Meghan and Harry knew that the duke was seriously unwell and probably close to death. Despite this, they allowed the program to be aired. This shows the most appalling bad taste, a staggering disregard for the feelings of the queen and, arguably, contempt for Philip's condition. Was the allure of signing a big contract with Netflix and other companies really so strong that it mattered more to Meghan and Harry than the health and wellbeing of Harry's closest family members? It is hard to conclude otherwise.

Their purpose in life is the exact opposite of the sense of decency that Prince Philip represented. I do hope that those who were taken in by Harry's attempt to gain the status of a victim will reconsider. I also hope that Meghan does the honorable thing by not attending the funeral of the man whose life's work she imperiled when he was so close to death. Who can dismiss the possibility that she would be made to feel unwelcome if she were to come to Britain? The fact is, her popularity in this country has plummeted in recent weeks, and I am sure I am not alone when I say that many people feel that her presence here at this time would be deeply inappropriate.

Nigel Farage is senior editor-at-large of Newsweek's "The Debate" platform.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.