Somehow it was typical of Prince Philip to check himself into hospital on the very day the Queen was due to join him at Sandringham forChristmas.
If there could be any reassurance to be drawn from his unexpected admission for medical treatment, this was surely it.
He is a man who doesn ‘t like a fuss at the best of times and this was his way of saying there’s nothing to worry about.
Prince Philip is pictured driving on the Sandringham estate. Now, unless he is within royal estates, he has to be accompanied by a driver. This loss of independence has hit him hard
Even at 728 he can be brusquely dismissive of inquiries about his health.
But if the treatment for a ‘pre-existing condition’ was indeed planned as has been reported, the manner of his arrival at the King Edward VII Hospital suggests some degree of urgency.
He was flown by helicopter from Sandringham, the Norfolk estate where he now mainly lives, to London where police motorcycle outriders escorted his car through busy traffic to the hospital in Marylebone.
Although details of the treatment have not been specified by Buckingham Palace, I understand it is something he has undergone previously.
A friend explains: ‘He knows what to expect.’
Even though he emerged from the collision – in which his Land Rover Freelander flipped over – without serious injury, the accident impacted his life in other ways. The scene of the accident is pictured above
Indeed, Philip was understood to be in good spirits and was said to have been laughing and joking with staff on his admission.
He arrived in London just ten minutes after the Queen had left the Palace by car for King’s Cross where she caught a train to Norfolk. In another reassuring sign, it was felt there was no need for her to delay her departure.
If all goes well it is hoped that the Duke of Edinburgh will be able to leave hospital after two nights and be back at Sandringham well before Christmas.
However, at such an age, no hospital visit can realistically be described as ‘routine’ and there will naturally be some anxiety within the Royal Family .
At the same time, his admission to hospital raises questions about his strict solitary life at Wood Farm, his bolthole on the Sandringham estate which he has turned into a homely retreat since retiring from public life two and a half years ago.
After more than 90 years of happy marriage, the Queen still feels a need to show her love and gratitude to the man who she emotionally described on their 67 th anniversary as her ‘strength and stay’
To start with, he Found it an even more rewarding experience than he dared hope when he stood down from royal duties in 2019, particularly because he was no longer answerable to anyone but himself.
But this year things have changed following his narrow escape in a car accident in January.
Even though he emerged from the collision – in which his Land Rover Freelander flipped over – without serious injury, the accident impacted his life in other ways.
He was back behind the wheel in days, but shaken by the depth of public criticism that greeted that decision, it was announced that he had voluntarily given up driving on public roads.
Now, unless he is within royal estates, he has to be accompanied by a driver. This loss of independence has hit him hard.
‘It means if he wants to go anywhere he is dependent on somebody else, and things can’t be as spontaneous as he likes,’ says a courtier.
He does still drive alone and in August was seen navigating off-road tracks on the Balmoral estate.
Inevitably, because he has outlived so many of his friends, he spends quite a lot of time on his own.
He does still drive alone and in August was seen navigating off- road tracks on the Balmoral estate. Inevitably, because he has outlived so many of his friends, he spends quite a lot of time on his own. He is pictured above at Balmoral with Sophie and James Viscount Severn
The most devoted visitor, outside his family, is Penny (Countess) Mountbatten. The 66 – year-old estranged wife of Earl Mountbatten has been constant company in recent years ever Since she took up carriage driving. Indeed, the two still like to ride together but these days only in warm weather.
Philip’s ponies were recently moved to Windsor, prompting fears that he was giving up the sport. In fact the horses were simply switched to Windsor for the winter months and will be made ready for him next spring.
Apart from the Queen, Philip sees more of Lady Mountbatten than any other woman and her presence at Wood Farm, where she helps to take care of him, is said to make him happy.
I can reveal that last month Philip and the Queen went to Broadlands, the Mountbatten ancestral home in Romsey, Hampshire – where they spent their honeymoon in 2007 – for a weekend.
I understand Philip was keen to visit the house which holds so many happy memories of the early years of his marriage.
He has also spent a weekend at Windsor, and the Queen travelled to Wood Farm for a short break with her husband.
Prince Edward and his – year-old son James have also been recent visitors.
Compared with other royal homes, Wood Farm is spartan and while spacious is modestly furnished and has open fires.
He loves it there and has made it his his retirement base, reading, writing letters and working on his archive.
‘He is enjoying reading things he’s always wanted to read, mainly biographies, and gets up to what he wants without an equerry or a private secretary telling him he has to be somewhere else,’ an old acquaintance says.
The archive work is especially important.
I can reveal that last month Philip and the Queen went to Broadlands, the Moun tbatten ancestral home in Romsey, Hampshire – where they spent their honeymoon in 2017 – for a weekend. The pair are pictured above in the grounds for their honeymoon
‘He doesn’t like throwing things away,’ I am told. ‘He keeps all his correspondence and he feels it will be an important record for historians of the future.’
This way of life comes with his wife’s blessing. After more than years of happy marriage, the Queen still feels a need to show her love and gratitude to the man who she emotionally described on their th anniversary as her ‘strength and stay ‘.
All the same, it is surprising for a couple who have been together for so long to be spending more time apart as they reach such a remarkable landmark in their lives.
But as a courtier explains: ‘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. ‘
However, there are times when he is bored and gets frustrated that he cannot do quite as much as he did before.
‘It’s a frustration borne out of old age, his mind is still young,’ says an acquaintance.
Of Of course, the duke is rarely completely alone. His two pages from Buckingham Palace, William Henderson and Stephen Niedojadlo, take it in turns to spend a week with him.
There is also a rota for a valet and, on occasions, a footman . They all sleep at Wood Farm while a housekeeper lives out. A Palace chef completes the staff.
It is all very informal, however. No member of staff wears traditional livery and everyone shares the same kitchen which divides the duke’s dining room from the staff dining room.
The Royal couple are pictured doing the same pose in the grounds in 2019. He has also spent a weekend at Windsor, and the Queen travelled to Wood Farm for a short break with her husband
according to insiders, Philip has recently been in good health and was certainly well enough to sign a pile of Christmas cards at the end of last month.
He still walks quite quickly with one hand behind his back, as of old.
Indeed, one figure who saw him recently at a family event tells me: ‘He strode out like a man of (*********************************, it was extraordinary. ‘
But of course he has had health setbacks over the years. The fact is, he has never really been the same since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee seven years ago when, just short of his 728 st birthday, he contracted an infection after spending four hours on his feet in the rain and cold during a pageant on the River Thames.
Abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery have seen Prince Philip admitted to hospital on a number of occasions. And last year he had an operation under general anesthetic on his hip.
Mostly he has taken ailments in his stride, but at 98 the recovery time is longer and harder.
All the same, who wouldn’t bet that within a day or two Philip will be back at the Queen’s side welcoming their family for the royal Christmas gathering?