This summer Prince Philip turns 96 and will be standing down from public engagements – at an age when many people have difficulty standing at all.

All the commentary on this news has rightly praised him for his years of service, and the fact that he carried on doing his job 30 years after most people have retired.

Sure, the commentators concede, there have been a few off-colour jokes or offensive remarks which might have got him sacked in many other walks of life. Instead they’re indulged as adding to the gaiety of the nation.

It’s true he has put in many years of devoted service. That’s why I can’t help feeling sorry for him.

Since the Queen ascended to the throne he’s been in a job he never chose, from which he couldn’t be fired, and which most of the time must have been excruciatingly boring. He as good as admitted it.

Stephen Blease In a newspaper interview in 1993 he said of his royal duties: “It wasn’t my ambition to be President of the Mint Advisory Committee. I didn’t want to be President of the World Wildlife Fund. I’d much rather have stayed in the navy, frankly.”

Various arguments are advanced for and against the monarchy. But one that hardly ever gets aired is the psychological harm it must do to the individuals themselves.

People who marry into it, like Philip, Diana or Kate, have to give up the freedom to make their own choices for the rest of their lives. That can only be damaging.

Philip’s real ambition was to become an admiral, not to spend the last 60 years unveiling plaques and the like. But that wasn’t an option.

And those who are born into the Windsor family, like the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William or Prince George, will never know what a normal life is like.

To deny anyone a free choice over their job or – as was the case until recently – their spouse or their religion is a form of cruelty. So is relentless media attention for life.

The Queen made her first appearance on the cover of Time magazine when she was three. As a teenager I recall seeing a TV news item about Prince William’s first day at nursery school.

I found it faintly disturbing. At some point within the next few years later he’ll have realised that this wasn’t normal, that cameras didn’t turn up for everyone’s first day at nursery school, and that he was trapped under a media spotlight until he dies. That realisation must have horrified him.

I suspect William and Kate would like to escape from it all and be a normal couple with a young family.

Some republicans complain about the cost of the monarchy or the fact that they represent privilege and underpin our class-ridden society. Some perhaps just don’t like the Windsors as individuals.

But other republicans are motivated by compassion for them, and would like to see them free to lead normal, fulfilled lives, pursuing careers of their own choosing and retiring at 65, without photographers round every corner from when they are babies until they die.

It’s the fervent fans of the monarchy, the people who claim to love them so much, who will never allow them that happiness.