As a 19-year-old receiving my Duke of Edinburgh Award, it was clear what Prince Philip represented: the importance of public service
The late Duke of Edinburgh meeting recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh award at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, June 2014
Prince Philip's lifetime of service – to the country, the planet, and the Queen – serves as an inspiration to us all
I met Prince Philip the way so many 19-year-olds did. Standing excitedly in a small group at St James’s Palace, waiting to be presented with our Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
As he made his way round the assorted groups, Prince Philip asked what new skill I’d learnt for the award. When I told him I’d learnt to drive, he asked “Four horses or six?”
He pretended to be surprised when I replied, “No sir, a car.”
Meeting Prince Philip – even fleetingly – and receiving my Gold Award at St James's was a thrill for me as a teenager. And I am one of hundreds of thousands with similar, lasting memories. One of more than 6 million who have taken part in the DofE scheme since Prince Philip set it up 65 years ago.
What a remarkable legacy. And what a fitting one too, given the award’s emphasis – alongside skills, fitness and adventure – on service.
We often talk about a “lifetime of service”, but very few have embodied that ideal to such an incredible extent as Prince Philip.
Stretching all the way back to the Second World War, when he served his adopted country in the Royal Navy, part of that heroic generation that defended our shores and defeated Nazism.
And continuing, of course, as he served our Queen so steadfastly throughout more than 70 years of marriage. Serving our country as an ever-present figure in public life, at the Queen’s side for so many historical moments – here in the UK, and representing our nation around the world.
He served our planet, too, through his work with the World Wildlife Fund, right from its founding in 1961. He championed the cause of many endangered species, from African elephants and Antarctic seals to Chinese pandas and Malaysian orangutans. And he raised the alarm about the destruction of our natural environment long before many others had awoken to the threat.
Words he spoke more than half a century ago still serve as a crucial call to action today:
“The conservation of nature, the proper care for the human environment and a general concern for the long-term future of the whole of our planet are absolutely vital if future generations are to have a chance to enjoy their existence on this earth.”
Rarely has anyone spent such a long career devoted to public service. Rarely will anyone do so again.
What Prince Philip gave to our country, through his unwavering support and loyal counsel to our longest-ever-serving monarch over so many decades, cannot be quantified but was undoubtedly invaluable. And his most enduring legacy will, surely, be all the lives he touched and the people he inspired.
The millions of young people, like me, who have been inspired by his DofE Award scheme to learn new skills, try new things and explore our wonderful countryside – and to serve others themselves.
And so many other people around the world, who have been inspired by his conservationism to take action to protect wildlife, nature and the very future of life on Earth.
Prince Philip’s father-in-law, King George VI, famously said that “The highest of distinctions is service to others.” In his lifetime of service to our Queen, our country and our planet, Prince Philip certainly earned that distinction.
Ed Davey is Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton and leader of the Liberal Democrats