The Queen’s Christmas holiday got off to a muted start yesterday but hopes rose that the Duke of Edinburgh will be well enough to join her for this week’s celebrations.
During a subdued day at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, the Queen is thought to have postponed her normal routine of visiting the Royal stud on the first day of her festive break.
The Queen normally tours the stud on the 20,000-acre estate soon after arriving from London to see her horses and the staff who care for them. While staff appeared to be preparing for a Royal arrival yesterday morning, the Queen seemingly did not visit.
In another apparent break from routine, there was no Saturday pheasant shoot, despite it being the height of the shooting season. In recent years, Philip has watched shoots at Sandringham from the warmth of a Land Rover.
The Queen waits for her train to depart King’s Cross station in London for Norfolk at the start of her Christmas break
The start of this year’s celebrations have been overshadowed by concern over the Duke’s health.
Philip, 98, was flown by helicopter to hospital in London on Friday morning for ‘observation and treatment’ of an unspecified pre-existing condition. The dash followed a month of ill-health for the Duke, including a reported fall.
Royal sources said last night that he was expected to remain in hospital for a few days, raising the prospect that he could be discharged in time to join the Queen and other senior Royals at Sandringham on Christmas Eve.
The Royal Family traditionally lay out their presents on trestle tables on December 24 and exchange their gifts at tea time.
On Christmas Day, they attend morning service at the nearby St Mary Magdalene Church.
Police officers outside King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Saturday after the Duke of Edinburgh travelled from Norfolk to the hospital
The Queen (pictured on Friday) is thought to have postponed her normal routine of visiting the Royal stud on the first day of her festive break at the Sandringham Estate
The Mail on Sunday understands Philip was driven to RAF Marham on Friday morning, where he boarded a Royal helicopter.
The Sikorsky S-76 left the base at 11.05am and landed in South London 45 minutes later. Philip was then driven to the private King Edward VII hospital in Marylebone, West London.
Royal sources said he walked into the hospital unaided.
The use of the RAF base, which is 12 miles south of Sandringham, guaranteed that the hospital transfer could be undertaken discreetly and away from the press photographers who gather at the estate in December.
However, it also meant that Philip and the Queen, 93, just missed each other.
Wearing a pink coat, pearls and a light blue headscarf, the Queen caught the 10.42am Great Northern service from London’s King’s Cross station and arrived at King’s Lynn at 12.31pm.
The Royal Christmas holiday got off to a muted start on Saturday but hopes rose that the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) will be well enough to join her for this week’s celebrations
It remained quiet outside the King Edward VII Hospital yesterday. No members of the Royal Family were seen visiting.
‘I hope Prince Philip is going to be OK,’ one resident said. ‘It would be nice if he and the Queen were back together at Christmas.’
Prince Charles is unlikely to join his mother at Sandringham until at least tomorrow night. He will first pay a visit to Yorkshire to meet volunteers and victims affected by floods in November.
Prince Andrew, who was forced to resign from Royal duties over his links to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is expected to join his family at Sandringham, but it remains unclear whether he will take part in the traditional walk to church on Christmas Day.
Prince Harry’s office confirmed that he and his family will be spending ‘private time’ in Canada over the Christmas period.
A rotten year and a rotten time not to have Philip by her side
By Ian Lloyd for the Mail on Sunday
When the Queen arrived at King’s Lynn station on Friday, she was animated, happily chatting to railway officials and clearly looking forward to her Christmas break at Sandringham House nearby.
This was, as always, a polished performance, seemingly delivered without a care in the world. We now know that behind the warm smile and pleasantries, the Queen was hiding the knowledge that Prince Philip, the man she calls her ‘strength and stay’, was being taken by helicopter to a London hospital – a distressing conclusion to one of the most fraught years of her long reign.
The family problems started early. It was only halfway through January when the Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a serious traffic collision close to Sandringham. The Land Rover he was driving hit a Kia, and while he suffered only cuts and bruises, the public outcry that a 97-year-old should have been behind the wheel forced him to give up the driving licence he had held for 70 years.
When the Queen arrived at King’s Lynn station on Friday, she was animated, happily chatting to railway officials and clearly looking forward to her Christmas break, writes Ian Lloyd
Then the Queen had to watch as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Prince Harry and Meghan – developed an increasingly volatile relationship with the media. The couple’s October tour of South Africa was a great success, but it was overshadowed by a highly emotional TV interview in which they lamented the way in which they have been portrayed.
But these concerns paled to insignificance after the controversy of Prince Andrew’s association with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and the humiliation of his grilling by Emily Maitlis on a special edition of Newsnight.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Royals find themselves in the worst crisis since the death of Princess Diana in 1997 – yet these days, the Queen no longer has Philip as a constant by her side in public or in private.
He retired from public duties in 2017 and has spent much of his time since then living at Wood Farm, on the Sandringham Estate.
The two have spoken every day during the tumultuous events of the past few months and the Queen will have been glad that the Duke was on hand to offer his support around the time of Andrew’s ‘car crash’ interview.
Philip travelled to Windsor to join his wife for their 72nd wedding anniversary on November 20 – shortly after the broadcast – and the Queen visited the Duke at Wood Farm the same month.
This was, as always, a polished performance, seemingly delivered without a care in the world
To see Philip’s value in a crisis we only have to look back to the summer of the annus horribilis of 1992, when the breakdown of the marriage between Charles and Diana first became public knowledge. Philip reacted decisively and with tact, summoning Charles and Diana to Windsor for a summit.
Philip counselled against a formal separation and urged them to work for a compromise and to think of others – especially their sons – rather than themselves.
When Diana failed to attend a second meeting, he resorted to writing to her instead. As one courtier put it, ‘the tougher the going, the better he is’.
The Queen and Philip were also by each other’s side when they visited the 18th Century Broadlands estate in Hampshire last month.
Pictured: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh
The ancestral Mountbatten home holds many happy memories. It is, after all, where they spent the first night of their honeymoon in November 1947 – joined by the Queen’s favourite corgi, Susan, who had been squirrelled away under a rug in their carriage – and where the family have since enjoyed numerous weddings and celebrations.
Broadlands is of sentimental value to Philip in particular. It was his ‘Uncle Dickie’, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who introduced him to the young Princess Elizabeth when she was just 13. And it was in 1946 at nearby Romsey Abbey and the wedding of his cousin Patricia Mountbatten that rumours of a romance between Elizabeth and Philip began to emerge.
The Royal couple have been regular visitors over the years. They had been married for a decade and a half when, during a weekend at Broadlands with their three young children – Charles, Anne and Andrew – the Queen was overheard squealing in the hallway as Philip goosed her.
Hurrying his wife up the stairs, the pair giggled while the Queen shrieked: ‘Stop it, Philip, stop it.’
It is said the cries could still be heard until the door of their bedroom closed.
Spartan cottage and visits from loyal friend Penny
By Jo Macfarlane
For all the grand Royal palaces at his disposal, it is a rather more modest address which Prince Philip chooses to call home.
Wood Farm, an unassuming cottage on the edge of the Sandringham Estate close to the Norfolk coastline, is where the Duke has been whiling away his days since retiring from official public life in August 2017.
The red-brick, five-bedroom property with its spartan furnishings and cosy open fires has for years been a bolthole from stuffy palace formality.
Royal observers note that the Queen and Philip have been able to feel – and, indeed, behave – like normal people while staying at Wood Farm rather than in ‘the big house’ a few miles away across the estate.
Pictured: Duke of Edinburgh with Lady Penny Brabourne at the Royal Windsor Horse Show
While the Queen continues to carry out official duties around the country, Prince Philip spends his days in Norfolk reading history books and biographies – he is said to regard novels with ‘suspicion’ – painting watercolours and entertaining friends and family who arrive by train from London.
His most recent visitors were Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Edward’s son, 12-year-old James. The Queen stays occasionally, although they are said to speak on the phone every day. Philip’s most regular visitor is one who also shares his greatest and most perilous passion – carriage riding.
Penny Brabourne, 66, the estranged wife of Earl Mountbatten, is a long-time friend and confidante of the Duke. The pair also share an appreciation for the Mountbatten family’s Broadlands home, which Penny is running due to her husband’s ill-health.
Carriage riding involves sitting on a vehicle being pulled by horses and, while it may sound sedate, it is done at speed and requires considerable nerve and skill.
Royal biographer Hugo Vickers said: ‘Prince Philip and Penny have been doing this together for years as a mutual interest.
‘He absolutely loves it and will do it every day, including Sundays. He took it up when he was forced to give up polo in 1971 due to an arthritic wrist.
‘He terrified his guests. Once, he took someone on his carriage and told him, ‘Horses get used to the way they normally go and usually they’d turn right here. I’m going to make them turn left – and they won’t like it.’
‘He was right. The guest was thrown from the carriage, while Prince Philip was thrown the other way. After they were rescued and safely in the back of a Land Rover, the Duke simply turned to him and quipped, ‘See what I mean?’
‘I’ve seen him do it and it looks terrifying but his former private secretary says it’s relaxation for him.
‘If you’re doing it at speed and going around obstacles, you have to concentrate so hard you don’t have time to think about anything else. That’s the point of it for him, I think.’
Penny and the Duke ‘get on very well together’, he added.
‘I’ve seen them all together – the Queen, Prince Philip and Penny – at Windsor and she stays at the castle. They spend a lot of time in each other’s company.’
Wood Farm was once the home of the so-called Lost Prince – Prince John, the youngest son of George V and Queen Mary.
His tragic story was turned into an Emmy award-winning 2003 BBC drama.
The Prince, who had epilepsy and learning difficulties, was sent to live in the cottage with his nanny to shield him from the public gaze, but he regularly saw his grandmother, Queen Alexandra, who was living at Sandringham. He died in 1919 aged just 13.
Wood Farm had been occupied by a tenant until it was turned back into a Royal residence.
Mr Vickers added: ‘Wood Farm is more practical than opening up Sandringham. It’s not tiny, but it’s a normal house that anyone could live in. It’s very un-Royal.’
Just, perhaps, the way the Duke likes it.