British Royal Family Christmas at Sandringham, The Queen appeared to have made a remarkable recovery yesterday from the heavy cold which caused her to miss church on Sunday for the first time in living memory.
She looked radiant in a bright turquoise Peter Enrione dress and matching wool coat with a hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan.
Wellwishers were delighted as the 86-year-old Queen collected posies and gifts of teddy bears outside St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham.
At the end of a momentous year for the Royal Family, observers said they had never seen the Queen looking happier.
The media were requested to ‘respect the privacy’ of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge despite their decision to attend church with family and friends in Berkshire yesterday.
All national media acceded to the request.
But a small number of freelance photographers turned up, including representatives of the Reuters international news agency.
The couple’s Scotland Yard police protection officers made no attempt to stop them taking pictures, as they often do, and even moved their vehicles to provide a clear view of William and Kate.
The photographs subsequently went round the world but St James’s Palace requested British newspapers not to publish them.
The only disappointment for the crowds was the absence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who opted to spend Christmas Day with Kate’s parents at their new mansion in Bucklebury, Berkshire, as well as Prince Harry who is serving on the front line in Afghanistan as an Apache helicopter pilot.
Instead of meeting and greeting many of the estimated 3,000 members of the public who go to Sandringham in Norfolk each year, William and Kate joined her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, sister Pippa and brother James for family Eucharist and Christmas carols at St Mark’s Church in Englefield.
The couple made the unusual decision to skip the Royal Family’s traditional celebrations with the duchess still in the early stages of a difficult pregnancy.
Earlier this month she was hospitalised for three nights with acute nausea, sickness and dehydration.
Doctors have warned that the condition, hyperemesis gravidarum, can recur at any time and the duchess has suffered at least one relapse since.
According to onlookers, Kate looked peaky with heavy shadows under her eyes – a sign that the condition, which her husband referred to ruefully as ‘day and all night sickness’ might have returned again.
But at least Christmas with the Middletons is a far more relaxed event than the formal affair at Sandringham, where guests are required to change outfits several times a day.
Pippa Middleton recently wrote of her ‘blissfully calm’ family celebrations involving nothing more strenuous than a few parlour games. She also revealed that her father likes to surprise his family with a different fancy dress each year – once sporting an inflatable sumo wrestler’s outfit.
Royal sources were at pains to point out that William and Kate’s decision to remain in Bucklebury was taken with the approval of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and that the young couple planned to visit Sandringham at some point in the Christmas period.
Following Philip’s own absence last year after being rushed to hospital for heart surgery, the duke made a point of leading his family as they walked from Sandringham House to the nearby parish church while the Queen, as usual, was driven.
He was accompanied by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne and Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence and Prince Edward with his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, and their eldest daughter, Lady Louise.
Both Princess Anne’s children were present this year with their respective spouses – Olympian Zara Phillips and husband Mike Tindall and Peter and Autumn Phillips.
Prince Andrew was accompanied by his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, who wore some of the most eye-catching outfits of the day.
Zara wore a hat by Karen Henriksen, the Countess of Wessex chose one by Jane Taylor, Autumn Phillips opted for a Nerida Fraiman design while Princess Beatrice wore a creation by the young British milliner Rosie Olivia.
Phoenix Stanford, eight, and sister Evangeline, five, from RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, wore Santa hats as they met the Queen. Phoenix said: ‘The Queen said they were lovely flowers.’
The Queen was also handed a bag of dog treats for her corgis by a girl in the crowd.
At Sandringham, the Royal Family enjoy a Christmas lunch of Norfolk turkey before settling down in front of the television to watch the Queen’s Speech.
Asked whether William and Kate would have done the same with the Middletons in Berkshire, a source said: ‘Absolutely.’