Prince Philip

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Depending on who's speaking, Prince Philip is either deeply shaken and "visibly more frail" following the Jan. 17 car accident that left his Land Rover totaled and one woman nursing a broken wrist or entirely defiant, eager to get back on the road. 

There's likely a fair bit of truth to each statement, but anyone who expected the 97-year-old Duke of Edinburgh to surrender the keys to his cadre of cars (a new Land Rover was delivered to their Sandringham residence the following day) and hide himself away hasn't been paying much attention. The man who's made a career playing escort to Queen Elizabeth II, often pulling focus from England's matriarch for his irreverent and, at times, troublingly offensive, brand of humor isn't one for the shrinking violet role. 

And while he does take orders from her majesty, his bride of 71 years is careful about when she doles them out. "There is really only one person he listens to and that's the Queen," an insider told Vanity Fair, "and while I know she has had words in the past, I'm not sure she would ever insist he stops driving.

The former World War II naval officer has more or less been operating on an "I do what I want" mindset since announcing his retirement from public life (or as he's referred to it, "ribbon cutting") in August 2017. 

Having spent the previous seven decades delivering some 5,493 speeches, taking 637 solo trips overseas and authoring 14 books, he's now content to quietly wile away his days at Wood Farm on the royals' Norfolk spread, Sandringham Estate. While sizable, the former farm manager's cottage is downright modest in comparison to Buckingham Palace. 

There, he tends to household matters, such as organizing the kitchen following a recent renovation and spends a good amount of time writing letters and fundraising on behalf of his patronages. But he also takes part in his most treasured hobbies such as carriage driving, painting watercolors, reading or just visiting with friends. 

"He is enjoying reading things he's always wanted to read and gets up to what he wants without an equerry telling him he has to be elsewhere, or a camera following him," a friend told the outlet. 

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Associated Press

And when the Queen visits, the pair enjoy their more scaled-back dwellings. (A page, housekeeper, chef and footman are also on hand, but, per the Daily Mail they don't wear uniforms.) "They are very modest. They like being in a smaller cozier house, and not having to have all the staff," royal biographer Penny Juror, author of The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown, told The Daily Beast. "We may dream of living in palace surrounded by flunkies, but they dream of being like us."

As for events, he'll attend if he feels up to it. Just a month removed from a scheduled hip surgery, Philip "made a supreme effort" to be up and about for grandson Prince Harry's May 19 wedding to Meghan Markle, a source told People. But he remained wishy-washy about returning to Windsor Castle that October for his granddaughter's vows, with much speculation that he was less keen to watch granddaughter Princess Eugenie marry Jack Brooksbank because of his long-running freeze-out of her mother Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. "I would be very surprised if he did go, because he is so estranged from Fergie," said the source. "I think he will decide at the 99th hour." 

Prince Philip, Princess Eugenie Royal Wedding


He did turn up for the fall affair alongside his bride, but the royals were prepared for either scenario. That's just how it goes when you're a nonagenarian, who's been officially off-duty for some 17 months. "Not unreasonably, when you consider his age, the Duke of Edinburgh will decide on the morning of the wedding if he's going to be there," The Telegraph reported. "He now very much operates on a 'wake up and see how I feel' basis.

That's not to say he's some sort of shut-in, selectively attending some choice events such as the 75th Royal Windsor Horse Show in May and a couple of polo matches in June. 

And on Jan. 17 he was just going about his day, returning from an unknown errand when he pulled onto the busy A149 road near Sandringham and collided into a Kia carrying 28-year-old driver Ellie Townsend, her 9-month-old son and pal Emma Fairweather, 46, later telling those at the scene he was "dazzled" by the bright sunlight in his eyes.

Prince Philip, car crash


The terrifying incident that left the Duke's SUV overturned quickly turned into tabloid fodder when Fairweather, who was riding in the passenger seat, capitalized on her 15 minutes of fame, turning up on Britain's This Morning Monday to discuss the royal treatment she'd received. "I thought surely he wants to speak to me, but then somebody told me he had tried to but been told not to," she told the program. "I don't think asking if someone is okay is accepting liability."

She later told the Sunday Mirror that she received a call from Mary Morrison, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, but was disappointed not to have heard from the Duke himself. "It would mean the world to me if Prince Philip said sorry but I have no idea if he's sorry at all," she told the Mirror. "What would it have taken for him and the Queen to send me a card and a bunch of flowers?" 

Though no blooms arrived at her doorstep in King's Lynn, Norfolk, a note from Philip was hand-delivered Jan. 23. In the typed 181-word missive, the royal apologized for his role in the incident. "The sun was shining low over the main road," he wrote. "In normal conditions I would have no difficulty in seeing traffic coming from the Dersingham direction, but I can only imagine that I failed to see the car coming."

He continued on, explaining why he so hastily fled the scene without checking in. "As a crowd was beginning to gather, I was advised to return to Sandringham House by a local police officer." But once he learned that she had suffered a broken wrist, he felt the need to send his condolences. "I am deeply sorry about this injury," he concluded before signing his name. "I wish you a speedy recovery from a very distressing experience." 

The encounter was troubling for him as well, with a source telling The Sun, "The idea he may have hurt someone would mortify him."

Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth

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What he is unlikely to do, though, is put an end to his driving days. A longtime car fanatic—the Queen once wrote to author Betty Shew, "Philip enjoys driving and does it fast! He has his own tiny M.G. which he is very proud of he has taken me about in it,"—the Duke was back behind the wheel of his new Land Rover the next day, sans seatbelt. Having passed the eye test required as part of the police investigation, a source told the Sunday Mirror, "He didn't waste any time in getting the keys to the Land Rover." 

According to the source, the Duke told staff to arrange for the new ride "so he could get back on the road. He didn't consider that he wouldn't be driving again."

Such an arrangement has occurred to others, a source told Vanity Fair, but the father of four isn't interested in hearing it. "Philip is a law unto himself," said the source. "The Queen and Prince Charles have pleaded with him to stop driving on public roads. Charles particularly thinks it's too dangerous but Philip won't be told. He loves the freedom he gets from being on the road, and he doesn't want to be driven around."

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip

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Basically, if it's not an explicit instruction coming from the Queen herself, he's not listening. And short of proof that he's actually a hazard to others, the monarch has no interest in stepping in. In her mind, the man she first fell in love with as a 13-year-old princess (the pair carried on a years-long courtship via post as First Lieutenant Philip, then a Greek prince, served in World War II) has earned his slice of freedom. 

Forgoing his beloved naval career, he dutifully served as her consort from the time she ascended to the throne in 1952. That meant accepting his place a step behind her because, as one friend put it to the Daily Mail, "He's seen it as a consideration for those who want an unobstructed view of the Queen without him getting in the way. It's the same reason why she sits further forward with the aid of cushions in cars and carriages.'"

As he has said, "There was no choice. It just happened. You have to make compromises. That's life. I accept it. I tried to make the best of it."

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip

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And while publicly it is his better half who has the vital role, he knows how critical he is to the whole operation. "Prince Philip is the only man in the world who treats the Queen simply as another human being. He's the only man who can," her majesty's former private secretary Lord Charteris has said. "Strange as it may seem, I believe she values that."

She made as much clear when giving a speech at their 50th anniversary celebration, telling those gathered at the 1997 event, "He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments. But he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years. I and his whole family, in this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know."

And as she watched him deal with the chronic arthritis that had made the seemingly nonstop plaque unveilings, parades and, yes, ribbon cuttings more painful, she knew she owed him a reprieve. While he will continue to be associated with the 700-plus patronages he has acquired over the years, "he will no longer play an active role by attending engagements," the palace said in the statement announcing his retirement in 2017. 

Stationing himself at Sandringham, some two-and-a-half hours outside of London, means the couple, who once always shared a breakfast table, now spend far more evenings apart. But it's a sacrifice the matriarch is willing to make. "The Queen feels the Duke has earned a proper retirement. She knows him too well—if he was still at the center of royal life he'd feel he had to be involved. Being at Wood Farm means he's not too far away, but far enough to be able to relax."

To a former lady-in-waiting, it's just one mark of their enduring romance. "I'm sure the Queen doesn't mind that in the least," she explained to the Daily Mail. "She fell in love with him at 13 when they first met and she is still in love with him. She's always had a special look in her eyes when she looks at him, and still has it. She believes he's earned some peace and quiet." 

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