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Prince Philip turns 90; queen's husband plans to cut back on royal duties and charity work

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LONDON - Prince Philip, the colorful and often outspoken husband of Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated his 90th birthday Friday in apparent good health and good humour but announced plans to cut back his officials duties.

At 90, it is fair to say his best gaffes are behind him.

The tall prince, still with military bearing but his face now craggy with age, has been a familiar figure at his wife's side for decades. He has championed numerous charities over the years, but is advising the ones he heads to start planning an orderly transition as he plots the end of his working life.

Instead of acting as if he can continue the punishing pace of royal engagements, Philip has acknowledged that he is losing stamina. In a television interview to mark his milestone birthday, he said he was nearing his "sell-by date."

"I reckon I've done my bit. I want to enjoy myself for a bit now. With less responsibility, less rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say," he said.

"On top of that your memory's going, I can't remember names. Yes, I'm just sort of winding down."

On Friday the queen made her husband the Lord High Admiral of the Navy, giving him a centuries-old title she had held since 1964. Philip had been a prominent naval officer until he gave up his career to be at his wife's side when she became queen.

The awarding of the title was seen as a sentimental acknowledgement by the queen of her husband's sacrifice on her behalf.

The prince seemed undimmed by age when he accompanied the queen on her recent four-day state visit to the Republic of Ireland. He showed no signs of fatigue, although the official schedule was lighter than in years past to take the queen's advancing years — she is 85 — into account.

Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, married the queen in 1947. He is the son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece and a great-great-grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria, giving him deep royal roots.

Philip has tried to stay in the background while attention is focused on the queen, but his knack for saying the wrong thing has sometimes drawn unwanted attention on their travels.

Some of his famous gaffes have been seen as racially offensive — as in 1986 when he warned a British student in China he would get "slitty eyes" if he stayed much longer — while others are just refreshingly frank.

In a special 90th birthday compendium, The Independent newspaper Friday published 90 notorious gaffes by Philip, including one in 1969 when he asked the singer Tom Jones if he gargled with pebbles.

"It is very difficult at all to see how it is possible to become immensely valuable by singing what I think are the most hideous songs," he told the singer after Jones performed at a Royal Variety Performance.

Another memorable one-liner came in 2000 when the queen opened a new, 18 million pound ($29.5 million) British Embassy in Berlin.

"It's a vast waste of space," Philip said at the reception following the gala ceremony.

Philip has made thousands of royal appearances with his wife — most of them gaffe-free — and his long years of service were hailed by newspapers Friday.

An editorial in The Daily Telegraph praised him for devoting his life to public service and contributing behind the scenes to the queen's success.

"The reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been one of the most illustrious in our island story, something that would not have been possible without the duke's support," the newspaper said.

Other honours included a 62-gun salute and the striking of a Royal Mint coin with his image on one side and the queen on the other.

Outside Buckingham Palace, the Band of the Irish Guards played "Happy Birthday," pleasing tourists who had gathered for the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he appointed the prince an honorary admiral and general in the Canadian Armed Forces, the first time an honorary rank has been granted at the highest level of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Aside from that it was a normal day for the queen's husband: Philip hosted a lunch for a charity that helps the deaf.

The royal family is planning a reception for Philip at Windsor Castle on Sunday after a service of thanksgiving at St. George's Chapel.


Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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