He was 18, tall, athletic and handsome when the princess met him. She was only 13, and immediately smitten.
Theirs was to be a relationship that endured for well over half a century. It was at the heart of Elizabeth’s reign, and the bedrock upon which a reshaped and modernised monarchy was built.
Sixty years after they met, Elizabeth was to pay a heartfelt public tribute to the man she referred to in private as “my rock”, saying: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments. But he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I and his whole family, in this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
They met on July 22, 1939, when the King, Queen and their two daughters arrived to tour the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. The college was in the grip of a mumps outbreak, and the young princesses were kept at a safe distance in the the house of the college’s captain, Admiral Sir Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton.
The senior cadet assigned to entertain them was Philip, himself only 18, and the college’s star student. The young princess was impressed by Philip’s ability to vault over a tennis court net, and from that beginning grew a romance that did much to lighten the gloom of post-war Britain.
The romance blossomed as senior courtiers discreetly established whether Philip would be a suitable consort for the future Queen. His credentials proved impeccable - he was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece, and the nephew of Lord Louis Mountbatten, already a favourite in royal circles.
Elizabeth and Philip began corresponding, and met on several more occasions, including a tea party aboard the royal yacht where Mountbatten played Cupid.
Like countless other young women whose beaus were at war, Elizabeth worried about Philip, especially when he saw active service against German, Italian and Japanese forces.
But home leave brought him back to Elizabeth, and at Christmas 1943, Philip was invited to stay with the Royal Family at Windsor. Mountbatten pulled strings at the Admiralty, and Philip was given a shore posting so that he could see Elizabeth more often.
By war’s end, there was widespread speculation about the romance and George VI, concerned that his daughter was too young for marriage, took her on his lengthy tour of South Africa in 1946, decreeing that there would be no engagement until she was 21. The announcement came two months after her birthday, on July 10 1947.
Philip had applied for British citizenship, which was granted in February 1947, when he also renounced his Greek royal title and adopted instead the surname of Mountbatten.
Formal consent for the marriage had been sought from the Privy Council, but in one of the few examples of the Queen’s private correspondence to be made public, she made it clear just how much she was determined to marry Philip, writing: “I don’t think anybody thought much about ‘consent’. It was inevitable!”
Philip was deliberately vague when asked about his romance with Elizabeth by biographer Basil Boothroyd, and gave nothing away about his feelings. He said: “I suppose one thing led to another. I suppose I began to think about it seriously, oh, let me think now, when I got back in ‘46 and went to Balmoral.
“It was probably then that we, that it became, you know, that we began to think about it seriously, and even talk about it.
“And then there was their excursion to South Africa, and it was sort of fixed up when they came back. That’s really what happened.”
The wedding took place on November 20 1947, and it was a welcome splash of colour and good cheer for a Britain battered and exhausted by the long war, and still struggling with shortages and rationing.
The glamorous young royal couple caught the public’s imagination, and hundreds of thousands turned out to pack the streets around Westminster Abbey, as the day dawned cold but clear.
Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress drew acres of newspaper coverage around the world. It bore the rose of York, hand-embroidered in more than 10,000 pearls and crystals.
Her wedding ring was made from the same nugget of Welsh gold as her mother’s ring. The nugget, from Clogau St David’s, Bontddu, North Wales, was later also used to fashion wedding rings for Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and the Princess of Wales.
She appeared nervous throughout the ceremony, in contrast to Philip, whose cheerful demeanour was the talk of the waiting crowds. Dressed in his naval lieutenant’s uniform, he beamed broadly as he bounded up the steps of the Abbey.
The crowds were delighted, and headed for Buckingham Palace after the wedding, where they massed in huge numbers, just as they had on VE Day two years before. When the newlyweds appeared on the balcony, there was tumultuous cheering.
Amid the pomp and ceremony of her wedding day, there was a moment of informality. As the Royal Family gathered in the palace quadrangle to see Elizabeth and Philip off on honeymoon, they pelted the laughing couple with rose petals. The King then led the entire family to the palace gates, where they waved off the honeymoon coach, which was bound for Waterloo station.
Elizabeth and Philip were bound for Mountbatten’s country home, Broadlands, in Hampshire. From there, they travelled to Birkhall, on the Balmoral estate. It was the beginning of a marriage that lasted until his death and was at the very heart of the history of the monarchy in modern times.