Prince Philip to spend his 92nd birthday in hospital

Earlier this week, the Duke of Edinburgh went to Westminster Abbey for an hour-long service followed by an official lunch.

The next day he was shown round a 19th steamship in London's Victoria Dock and almost skipped up the gangway.

And there he was again 24 hours later grinning under his topper as he chatted to guests at a Buckingham Palace garden party. Prince Philip turns 92 on Monday.

The Duke of Edinburgh will celebrate his birthday, as he did Christmas in 2011, in hospital. And more than that. He will be recovering from a general anaesthetic and exploratory surgery on his abdomen.

The Queen and Prince Philip attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace yesterday. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

After the garden party, he was driven to the London Clinic and walked in, we're told, with a smile on his face.

Palace officials are anxious that we shouldn't speculate about the Duke's condition. Anyone who has followed him recently will know how fruitless that is anyway.

I have stood outside hospitals in Cambridge, London and Aberdeen in the past couple of years speculating about the implications of the Duke's admission.

Police officers pictured outside the London Clinic, where Prince Philip is undergoing an exploratory operation. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

On each occasion he's emerged with a grin and gone back to work.

Is it more serious this time? How easily can a man of 92 recover from surgery and a general anaesthetic? I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess.

This particular hospital patient was described by one observer as someone who would rather run than walk, a former naval officer who can still fit into the uniform he wore back in the '50s.

The Duke of Edinburgh smiled as he received the the Order of New Zealand from the Queen yesterday. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

There is also the inevitable talk of how many public duties the Duke will be able to take on in future, how often he will be able to carry on at the Queen's side. We know there will be an increased workload for the Prince of Wales.

Prince William, considering his future in the RAF and preparing for fatherhood, will also play an increasingly prominent royal role.

But the Duke of Edinburgh has made few concessions to the passing years so far. He's now due to spend up to two weeks in hospital.

I suspect that when he emerges the grin will be in place and retirement will not be on the agenda.