London: Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth and a leading figure in the British royal family for almost seven decades, has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace said on Friday.
The Duke of Edinburgh, as he was officially known, had been by his wife's side throughout her 69-year reign, the longest in British history, during which time he earned a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense attitude and a propensity for occasional gaffes.
"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," the palace said in a statement.
"His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."
A Greek prince, he married Elizabeth in 1947 playing a key role in modernising the monarchy in the post-World War Two period, and behind the walls of Buckingham Palace being the one key figure the queen could turn to and trust.
"He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," Elizabeth said in a rare personal tribute to Philip made in a speech marking their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.
When Prince Philip launched THE WEEK online on his visit to Malayala Manorama
The scene was colourful as Prince Philip's white Mercedes arrived. At the entrance were three caparisoned elephants and Panchavadyam (five musical instruments) exponents, who kept up a lively beat. As cameras flashed away, the Prince wondered why Indians were so fond of photography. It was his first visit to a newspaper office in India, and he chose Malayala Manorama and THE WEEK in Kochi for that honour.
There was much more than newsprint and machines to see. Many panels had been put up explaining different facets of Kerala life and the newspaper's activities. The Prince stopped before a photograph in the panel about rubber cultivation, which showed some Christian nuns tapping rubber. "Are they the ones who do rubber-tapping in your country?" he asked lightheartedly.
Another panel showed details about the company's scheme to donate houses for the poor in its centenary year. There was one on the earthquake-ravaged village of Banegaon in Maharashtra that was rebuilt by the newspaper with contributions from its readers. The Prince expressed surprise at how one family could run the show for 107 years.
He also enjoyed the various presentations of Kerala's art forms. There was Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Pulluvan Pattu and Ottan Thullal. The Prince recalled that he had seen Mohiniyattam before and wanted to know about the Ottan Thullal performance. When told that it was a political satire of sorts, he compared it to pop music.
He then walked into the newsroom and formally inaugurated THE WEEK online edition. Seeing that week's cover, 'Captain's crisis' on the website, he sought to know what the crisis was.
He witnessed the printing of a special edition of Malayala Manorama, which had reports and pictures of his arrival in Kochi just a few hours earlier. Even the press on which Manorama was first printed went into action printing out the very first front-page of the newspaper for the benefit of the special guest.
Showing a keen eye for the modern techniques of news gathering and dissemination, he quipped that what journalists write remained the same irrespective of whether the production was done electronically or by hand composing.
(With inputs from Reuters/The Week)