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Duchess of Edinburgh says Edward ‘is still my best friend’ in surprise tribute

Duchess of Edinburgh says Edward ‘is still my best friend’ in surprise tribute

The Duchess of Edinburgh has surprised her husband with a tearful tribute ahead of his 60th birthday, saying he is “the best of fathers, the most loving of husbands and he is still my best friend” and “I am so proud of the man he is”.

Sophie took to the stage at the end of the Community Sport and Recreation Awards, in Leeds, to make a speech praising her husband ahead of his landmark birthday on Sunday.

They both wiped away tears after she described how, like his father, the late Duke of Edinburgh, “my husband never seeks compliments for himself”.

She said: “Which is why I am grateful for this chance to able to publicly celebrate and compliment him.”

Sophie said Edward was “so happy and humbled” when the late Queen made him a Knight of the Garter in 2006, and “equally delighted and moved” when the new King – “who we are both incredibly proud to support” – made him Duke of Edinburgh.

She told the audience on Friday: “Both he deserves in equal measure, and I am so proud of the man he is.

“He is the best of fathers, the most loving of husbands and he is still my best friend.”

After the couple embraced, the duke was further surprised with a birthday cake, which he cut after the guests at the awards lunch, at Headingley Stadium, sang Happy Birthday and cheered.

The duke laughed along with the audience when, as Happy Birthday rang out, the guests all came to a collective halt over what to call him in the “happy birthday dear …..” section.

After she walked to the stage, the duchess praised all those in the room who had done so much for grassroots sport, and then said: “I wanted to also take this opportunity to recognise another great milestone and share a small tribute to my darling husband as he celebrates his 60th birthday this Sunday.”

Sophie said she knew how horrified her husband would be to see her speaking about him in public, predicting how he would be sitting and “looking identical to his father when I made speeches about him”.

The Duke of Edinburgh with a cake ahead of his 60th birthday during the Community Sport and Recreation Awards 2024 at Headingley Stadium in Leeds
The Duke of Edinburgh with a cake ahead of his 60th birthday during the Community Sport and Recreation Awards 2024 at Headingley Stadium (Danny Lawson/PA)

She then outlined his devotion to the DofE organisation and his work with a range of charities.

Sophie said: “I encourage you to take a walk through his CV of affiliations and marvel at the breadth of them, each doing their part to make our world a better place and to understand that he is not just a name on a piece of paper, but that he commits of himself to them all and cares deeply for each of them.”

She said Edward has been her guide, and added: “Whatever he is doing he gives 150% of himself, and if all else fails he gives any energy he has left out to our exhausted dogs or laying waste to the garden.”

Wiping away tears again, the duchess ended her speech saying: “So, here’s to you my darling Edward and may I, along with all your family and so many friends, and so many others wish you the happiest of birthdays.”

Earlier, Edward had joked that he did not need to be reminded how old he was, as he was presented with a rugby shirt to mark his forthcoming birthday.

Edward and Sophie were posing for pictures on Friday with girls playing rugby league at the stadium, when they were each given Leeds Rhinos shirts, two days ahead of his birthday on Sunday.

The duke laughed as he noticed the shirt had “HRH 60” on the back and said to his wife: “Yours is more subtle than mine.”

The Duke of Edinburgh is presented with a number 60 rugby shirt, ahead of his 60th birthday, during a visit to Headingley Stadium in Leeds to watch rugby trials and take part in an awards ceremony
The Duke of Edinburgh is presented with a number 60 rugby shirt, ahead of his 60th birthday, during a visit to Headingley Stadium (Danny Lawson/PA)

He told the young players: “Thanks a bunch. I really need to be reminded.”

Sophie held her shirt up, with no number, and told the girls: “I’m much younger.”

The duke continued to be amused by the number on the back of his shirt and said: “Even I know there aren’t than many people on the field.”

The couple had been on the pitch at Headingley, where they watched girls from four Leeds schools go through training drills and chatted to them, asking how they go into the sport and how their current season was going.

The visit on Friday was taking place on International Women’s Day and, after they arrived, Edward and Sophie were met by two pioneers of women’s rugby league, Julia Lee, the UK’s first female rugby league referee, and Lisa McIntosh, a former Great Britain rugby league captain who was the first woman of colour to skipper a British sports team.

Both are involved in a project to ensure the story of the first generation of female rugby league players is heard more widely, and they showed the duke and duchess around an exhibition of the history of women’s rugby league.