June 9, 2011 / 11:59 AM / in 7 years

UK Queen's feisty husband Prince Philip turns 90

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Prince Philip, renowned for his blunt talk and verbal gaffes, turns 90 on Friday, spending the day as he has much of life performing official duties in his role as Queen Elizabeth’s husband.

<p>Britain's Prince Philip smiles during his visit with Queen Elizabeth to the Irish National Stud in Kildare, Ireland May 19, 2011. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez</p>

The son of the exiled Prince Andrew of Greece, Philip married the queen in 1947 and is now the longest-serving consort and oldest-serving spouse of any British monarch.

Despite being a near constant companion at the queen’s side during her long reign, the still sprightly prince has rarely sought the limelight himself.

His birthday will be in keeping with that low-key style; he will hold a reception to mark the centenary of a charity for the deaf and in the evening he will chair a conference for senior British military figures followed by a dinner.

“It’s a normal working day for him. There’s no celebration as such,” his spokeswoman said.

The only formal event to mark his birthday will take place on Sunday with a special service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, one of the queen’s residences, west of London, which will be attended by most of the royal family.

Philip, the oldest living great-great-grandchild of Britain’s Queen Victoria, was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921.

His family was forced into exile when Philip was 18 months old and he came to England as a child, later becoming a naturalized British citizen.

He served in the Royal Navy during World War Two, taking part in the Allied landings in Sicily and was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

He first met his future wife when she was 13 and visited the naval college where he was a cadet, and following the war they got engaged, when he was given the title the Duke of Edinburgh.

“STRENGTH AND STAY”

As the queen’s husband he has no clear constitutional role, although he does accompany his wife on most of her official engagements in Britain and all her foreign trips.

“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years,” the queen said in a personal tribute to Philip during a speech to mark their 50th wedding anniversary 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.”

His most notable achievement is the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme for young people, which is estimated to have attracted about seven million participants from 132 countries since 1956.

In an interview with the BBC to be aired on Thursday, Philip himself said he took no credit for the scheme, and gave a typically blunt answer when asked if he thought he had been successful in his royal role.

“I couldn’t care less,” he said, adding that he would be winding down his official engagements. “Who cares what I think about it, I mean it’s ridiculous.”

It is for such gruff remarks, and unguarded comments and gaffes that he is best-known, with his sayings even being published in several books.

He once told British students in China: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll be slitty-eyed” and asked Aborigines in Australia if they still threw spears at each other.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Philip had always done things “in his own inimitable way, with a down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach that the British people I believe find endearing.”

While Philip has spent his life in the shadow of the queen, there is one place where he outshines his wife -- on the south Pacific island of Tanna in the Vanuatu group, where the locals worship him as a god.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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