AT 99, Prince Philip has always been there, always in the background of our national life, always a step behind the Queen, always providing her with support, always there for her.

It doesn’t sound much of a tribute, always being there, but for the Queen it has been absolutely vital. His support has been the bedrock upon which her reign has been based. It has been a long reign through decades of fast change in which the royal family, because of his steadfastness, has been one of the few stable parts of national life.

And when the family itself had its tumultuous times, that steadiness ensured that it didn’t fold.

Philip was a forthright, disciplined leader of men, and so for him to take on a subordinate role – swopping his first naval command with a defined and powerful role to become a consort with no structure and no power – must have been difficult.

Those who only remember him as an old man don’t know that, 60 years ago, he was a moderniser, urging the royal family to open up, and his creation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award in 1956 was part of that, opening the family up to millions of young people. He also, for all his reputation as a shooter, was an early environmentalist, one of the first to talk about “the greenhouse effect”.

While the country is marking his passing, his service and his stability, the Queen has to come to terms with the end of her great love affair. They had been married for 73 years, but had known each other for 82 – a lifetime. Our thoughts really are with her at this tender, terrible time, and she will need all the support she can get as her rock can no longer be there.