Newsmaker: UK's loyal, gaffe-prone consort taken ill

LONDON Fri Dec 23, 2011 5:15pm EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Philip, who was taken to hospital with chest pains on Friday, has earned a reputation as a loyal and hard-working consort with a brusque sense of humor and a tendency to make politically incorrect gaffes.

The longest serving consort in British history, Philip married Queen Elizabeth in 1947 and has been by her side since her coronation in 1952.

A stray remark about "slitty eyes" during a visit to China in the 1980s became symbolic of his gruff and often unguarded manner, which contrasted with the smiling image of the queen and other British royals.

While touring Australia in 2002, the prince asked an Aborigine whether they still threw spears at each other.

He made the headlines three years earlier when he said to members of the British Deaf Association who were watching a loud musical band: "Deaf? If you're near there, no wonder you're deaf."

Another quip that upset some was a throwaway remark to a Scottish driving instructor in 1995: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"

Asked in a rare television interview in June whether the media had been unfair to him, he told the BBC: "I suppose, yes, occasionally but I think it has its own agenda and, and that's it, you just have to live with it."

CHARITY WORK

Beyond the knockabout headlines about a man dubbed "Phil the Greek," the prince earned respect for his tireless work with scores of charities and as the queen's consort on official engagements.

He carried out thousands of official visits at home and abroad, most recently meeting crowds in Australia and Ireland.

Philip helped hundreds of thousands of young people with his Duke of Edinburgh's Award, a program designed to help participants reach their potential.

He has been seen as a robust and remarkably healthy character with a fondness for outdoor pursuits. The prince was taken to hospital in eastern England for tests after suffering from chest pains while staying at the Sandringham royal estate for Christmas, Buckingham Palace said.

A descendant of Queen Victoria, Philip was born at the family home "Mon Repos" on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921 to Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

After serving in the Royal Navy, he married Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in 1947. Their first son and heir, Charles, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948, followed by Anne (1950), Andrew (1960) and Edward (1964).

The prince gave a flavor of his no-nonsense approach to life in the BBC interview when he was asked to reflect on whether he had been a success.

"I couldn't care less," he said. "Who cares what I think about it, I mean it's ridiculous."

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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