Prince Philip Once Told a Royal Biographer He Didn't Want to Live to 100: 'Ghastly Prospect'

Prince Philip once said, "I can't imagine anything worse. I'm already falling to pieces as it is," according to royal biographer Gyles Brandreth's new book Philip: The Final Portrait

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured 1/6/2020 in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle ahead of his 99th birthday on Wednesday.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty

Prince Philip lived a memorable life before his death in April at age 99, including becoming the longest-serving British consort. But a new book reveals the royal once admitted he didn't want to live that long.

"I certainly don't want to hang on until I am a hundred like Queen Elizabeth [the Queen Mother]," Prince Philip once told his longtime biographer Gyles Brandreth, who knew him for more than four decades, according to Philip: The Final Portrait. "I can't imagine anything worse. I'm already falling to pieces as it is. Bits keep dropping off. I have absolutely no desire to cling on to life unnecessarily. Ghastly prospect."

Pulling from his many conversations with Prince Philip over the years, as well as numerous interviews with other royal sources, Brandreth revised and updated his 2004 book Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage to present an expansive and authoritative portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh and his 73-year marriage to Queen Elizabeth.

"He was more thoughtful and much kinder than the common caricature of him would suggest," writes Brandreth in the book's introduction.

Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, later HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, 19th November 1947.
Prince Philip in 1947. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

"It was a great privilege to know the Duke over so many years and remarkable to be given special access and help in writing his life story," said Brandreth a statement. "It is an extraordinary story and unexpected in so many ways. He saw an early draft of my book and made some factual corrections, as well as a few caustic comments! He did not see the final version, but I hope it does him justice. I have not held anything back."

While Queen Elizabeth, 95, is always careful with her words, her husband became well-known for his off-the-cuff, candid manner. He had many such moments with Brandreth, which are recounted in the book, including times when he reflected back on his life.

"There were times when I felt quite close to Prince Philip — like a proper friend, or as much a friend as you can be with a man who is thirty years your senior and the husband of the head of state," writes Brandreth in Philip, setting the scene. "Sitting alone with him in his library at Buckingham Palace, sharing a drink, he was the best company: completely unstuffy, easy to talk to — and happy to talk about anything."

"Has it been fun?" Brandreth remembers asking Prince Philip.

Philip, the Final Portrait

"Fun?" Prince Philip "snorted" in response, according to the book. "I don't think I think much about 'fun'. Do you think much about fun?"

"Yes," Brandreth said. "Now and again."

"Really? I suppose the polo was fun," Prince Philip admitted. "Playing cricket was fun, in the old days. The carriage driving is fun — when you don't fall off the box seat. Then it's just bloody painful."

When pressed, Prince Philip admitted that he enjoyed flying. He'd also wondered if he should have joined the air force instead of the navy. (Prince Philip was an officer in the British navy until King George VI's unexpected death in 1952, which made then-Princess Elizabeth the monarch and Prince Philip her consort.)

But the royal resisted the idea of regretting past decisions. "Regrets are a waste of energy," he told Brandreth. "There's no point in having regrets."

Asked Brandreth, "Has it been a good life? Worthwhile?"

"I don't know," said Prince Philip with a shrug. "I've kept myself busy. I've tried to make myself useful. I hope I've helped keep the show on the road. That's about it, really."

Prince Philip was being humble, of course. In addition to serving as "rock" and sounding board to the Queen across her decades on the throne, he established the Duke of Edinburgh's Award to honor young people from communities around the world.

At home "he was a force behind modernizing," Queen Elizabeth biographer Sally Bedell Smith told PEOPLE in April. "He was the one who discovered the potential of television and actually tutored Elizabeth on how to read a teleprompter before her first [televised] Christmas speech [in 1957]. Up until then the courtiers were suspicious of him. His challenge was to find something useful he could do without stepping on her toes or somebody else's toes."

Gyles Brandreth
Gyles Brandreth. Gareth Cattermole/Getty

During a chat in Prince Philip's library, he and Brandreth also talked about death.

"I'm quite ready to die," the Duke of Edinburgh told the author. "It's what happens — sooner or later."

When his time finally came at the age of 99, Brandreth believes Prince Philip was content.

"I think that when he died, he died happy. In the last ten years of his life he seemed a more settled soul than once upon a time," Brandreth writes.

RELATED VIDEO: Prince Philip's Funeral: Tearful Moments as Queen Elizabeth Sits Alone and William and Harry Come Together

"He could still be cantankerous and tetchy — he was willful and contrary to the last — but, overall, he appeared to me to be more contented late in life than he had been in middle age, more at ease with himself, with his family, and with the world," he continues. "I believe he recognized, finally, that people recognized his contribution and, though he made light of it, that pleased him very much."

The person who always saw Prince Philip's strengths — and appreciated his contributions — was Queen Elizabeth.

While celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, she gave a heartfelt tribute to her longtime partner. "He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments, but he has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years," she said, "and I ... owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim."

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Philip: The Final Portrait is on sale now.

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