As the rain lashed down on Buckingham Palace yesterday the Duke of Edinburgh might have been forgiven the temptation to stay indoors rather than fulfill his day’s planned duties.
But that would of course have been completely out of keeping for a man who - come rain or shine - has carried out more than 22,200 engagements during his long career of public service.
So it was that at 2.55pm Prince Philip stepped onto the palace forecourt to carry out his last official engagement - this time as Captain General of the Royal Marines - before retiring at the age of 96.
It is understood his grandson Prince Harry is being lined up to take over as the regiment’s Captain General, with senior military figures keen for it to go to a member of the royal family who, like Philip, has seen combat.
Sixty four years ago - in what was one of his first public roles on the coronation of the Queen in June 1953 - Prince Philip was appointed Captain General of the Royal Marines, in succession to the late King George VI.
Yesterday saw his last outing in that role when he attended a parade to mark the finale of the regiment’s 1664 Global Challenge, which has seen men from the Royal Marines running 16.64 miles around Britain each day over a 100 days and complete a number of similar feats of endurance.
And, true to form, Prince Philip had a characteristic assessment of the grit and determination that kind of physical challenge takes.“You should all be locked up,” he told them.It is the kind of bluff, no-nonsense remark that will be familiar to anyone who has met the Duke of Edinburgh during the thousands of visits, plaque unveilings, tours of hospitals and regimental inspections he has carried out over the years.
It was no doubt this sort of attitude that yesterday led the Prince to eschew an umbrella, and dispense with any suggestion of a rainproof shelter on the palace forecourt, while taking the parade and presenting of the regimental colours.
Indeed he spent a considerable amount of time beneath the rain stopping to talk to members of the regiment, including those who had undertaken the challenge, along with the Royal Marine veterans and cadets who took part in the parade.
Among them was Corporal Will Gingell, one of two Royal Marines to run the entire distance of 1,664 miles, along with Sergeant Matt Burley, a physical training instructor, who swam 1,664 lengths underwater over 10 days and Lieutenant Colonel Aldeiy [CORR] Alderson, who ran 100 kilometres in 12 hours wearing his Royal Marines uniform and polished boots.Cpl Gingell, 33, from Hackney, said: “He was pretty upbeat considering the weather and considering he’s 96. He was happy to be there and interested in what we’ve done.”
He added that the Prince had commented on the weather as they stood talking beneath the pouring rain.“He asked if we had rain running down our backs at the end. We said to him we’ve run in worse weather. You get into the zone where nothing hurts any more and you keep going.”
Keeping going is something the Duke of Edinburgh - who, as a Royal Navy midshipman, was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941 - knows all about.Since the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952 he has given 5,496 speeches, carried out 637 solo overseas visits and sat as patron of 785 organisations.
But in May the palace announced his retirement from royal duties - though he will still continue to be at the Queen’s side at various events - after he joked with friends that he was nearing his “sell by date”.
Corporal Jamie Thompson, 31, from Carlisle, who also ran the entire 1,664 miles of the challenge, said: “It’s special that it’s the last thing he’s doing and to be part of that is a real honour.”
Cpl Gingell added: “Because he’s Captain General of the Royal Marines it’s quite fitting he’s doing this for his last event. It’s a lot of years and a lot of service he’s given to the Royal Marines and we’re all very grateful for that.”
Every man and woman present was aware of the parade’s significance, and a lusty cry rang out across the forecourt when Regimental Sergeant Major Phil Gilby barked the call for “three cheers for the Captain General”.
In return Prince Philip lifted his bowler hat and gave a little wave, in recognition of the men under his command.
Then - as the Plymouth Band of the Royal Marines played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” - he turned on his heels, waved to the crowds outside the gates and strode across the forecourt to return inside Buckingham Palace for the last time in his official capacity, his duty to Queen and country done.