LONDON (AP) — For decades, he has stood loyally at the side of Queen Elizabeth II and made thousands of solo appearances as well. He calls himself the world’s most experienced unveiler of plaques.
He has been eligible for a government pension since June 10, 1986, yet still soldiered on.
Now, at age 95, Prince Philip says he is retiring from royal duties.
The queen’s husband said Thursday he will carry out scheduled engagements for the next few months but won’t take on new ones starting in the fall.
His retirement announcement followed a night of frenzied speculation caused by news reports about an “emergency” palace meeting Thursday.
Buckingham Palace said Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, made the decision to retire with the full support of the queen.
Tall, craggy-faced and always elegantly dressed, Philip is as famous for his occasional off-color gaffes and one-liners as he is for his devotion to the monarch, and he joked about his retirement at an Order of Merit reception at St. James’s Palace.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” said 88-year-old mathematician Michael Atiyah said, using the British expression for retirement.
“Well, I can’t stand up much longer,” Philip replied. He walked with his head held high, despite his self-deprecating claim.
Harvey Oyer, a Florida attorney who was invited to a Buckingham Palace lunch reception, told The Associated Press that Philip looked remarkably well.
“The big takeaway is there was no indication that this was a farewell,” Oyer said. “He did not look unhealthy in any way. He was as spry and humorous and engaging as he has always been.”
Philip has made earlier concessions to age, announcing when he turned 90 in 2011 that he was “winding down” his official duties. He said at the time that he felt he had “done my bit.”
Since then, he’s had some serious health issues, including a blocked heart artery, and has been hospitalized several times.
There were no indications that Philip suffers from any new health problems. The statement indicated Philip will carry out previously scheduled engagements between now and August.
Few would begrudge him a chance to take it easy after more than 22,000 solo royal engagements since Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952.
He quickly discovered he had no defined constitutional role and had to carve his own path, making it his top priority to support his wife in her considerable public endeavors.
While few were surprised that Philip is stepping back, tourists outside the imposing gates of Buckingham Palace expressed unhappiness about the news.
“He’s been an icon for so long, and I’ve really admired him, and it saddens me in a way,” said Grace Marie, who nonetheless said she understood his decision.
She said it was time for the younger royals to step into the spotlight.
There was praise for Philip from other parts of the Commonwealth. In Australia, where the queen is recognized as head of state, officials praised Philip’s tenacity.
“It says something about an individual that they get to the age of 95 before they decide to officially retire,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told reporters. “It’s something to aim for.”
Philip, a member of the Greek royal family in exile, sacrificed a successful naval career to support Elizabeth when she became queen.
He became the longest-serving consort in British history in 2009 — much as Elizabeth has become the country’s longest reigning monarch.
Philip is known for having a sometimes-offensive sense of humor — and for gaffes that accompanied his many travels. Among his most infamous was in 1986, while visiting Beijing, where he told a group of British students: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
Officials said the queen, who turned 91 last month, will carry on her royal engagements with the support of the royal family. She has indicated that she does not plan to retire, saying it her duty to serve for life.
Elizabeth has, however, reduced her workload considerably in recent years as her children and grandchildren have moved to the fore. She has stopped making long-haul air flights to other Commonwealth countries and cut back on travel to continental Europe.
Attention has been increasingly focused on her son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and on her grandson Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Prince Harry has also commanded considerable attention, most recently by talking openly about emotional problems he dealt with for 20 years after his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in Paris.
Philip may feel the monarchy is in good hands, with the line of succession extending to William and Kate’s children, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, who just turned 2.
The palace said Philip will continue his role with more than 780 charitable organizations but will not regularly attend engagements.
He is not expected to disappear completely from the public stage; the palace said he may still take part in some events from time to time.
The queen is normally quite reserved about her private life, but she broke with tradition in a 1997 speech marking their 50 years of marriage.
“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments,” she said. “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and 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.”
Earlier Thursday, a report by Britain’s Daily Mail about an unusual meeting of royal household staff prior to the retirement announcement sparked a worldwide wave of internet speculation about the health of Elizabeth and Philip, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.
Britain’s Sun tabloid briefly reported on its website that Philip had died. The incorrect report was quickly dropped.
Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Kevin Scott in London, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed.