Royal Watch: Want to see the Queen in person? It actually really easy, says James Marston

James Marston visits Sandringham to see the Queen in person

James Marston visits Sandringham to see the Queen in person - Credit: Archant

The Queen is a Norfolk woman – at least she is when she's on holiday over Christmas and New Year. And while she's at Sandringham she almost never misses church - which means we can get to see her really easily. Our Royal fan and columnist JAMES MARSTON reports.

Queen Elizabeth II attending a a church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk

Queen Elizabeth II attending a a church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk. PHOTO: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

You can tell the moment you are on Sandringham estate.

The doors of every estate house are the same blue colour, the fences are well kept, the verges tidy, the place is a bit like a kingdom within a kingdom. It is, of course, along with Balmoral one of the Royal family's private estates, their Norfolk retreat, where the Queen and her loved ones go to relax, to shoot, to walk, to visit her horses, to keep an eye on the farms, to entertain friends and to get away from it all.

Since the mid-1980s the royals have spent Christmas together at Sandringham, with the Queen staying on for a few weeks away from the bustle of London.

But for Her Majesty life can never be totally private and on a Sunday, while she's in residence, she almost never misses the traditional morning service - known as Mattins in church language – at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, a short distance from the main house. It is also a moment the public can share as, even on holiday, she shows herself briefly to her people.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave after attending a church service at St Mary Magdalene Church

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave after attending a church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Unlike her Christmas Day appearance – which attracted crowds of 4,000 this year – a Sunday early in the year usually attracts crowds in the hundreds, and I reckon there were no more than 200 this last Sunday. It is low key and surprisingly relaxed.

I took my father Duncan for a morning out, to brush away the cobwebs and breathe in some of the fresh Norfolk air.

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With plenty of parking near the estate visitor centre, which includes a shop and restaurant, it's only a short walk to the gates of the grounds where Norfolk Police do a short and efficient security check – a sign of the times I suppose – before we take up our places behind the simple blue cordon and wait.

The waiting – we waited about 30 minutes – is half of the fun, Dad chatted to one of Norfolk's finest – mostly about the problem of lead theft from church roofs while I talked to a lady from nearby Dersingham who comes every year to see the Queen and we speculated on who might come strolling through the gates of the big house.

Would Princess Anne be there? Or maybe Prince William and Kate? We didn't think Charles and Camilla would still be in residence, but the Wessexes might, or might not – you can guess and imagine the sort of thing.

The crowds, such as they are, were in a buoyant mood.

Then things gradually started to happen.

Men in suits and long coats appeared, chatting amongst themselves – more security we assumed. The rector came down the steps from the church - resplendent in his scarlet cassock and cape, and a churchwarden or verger – I assumed – handed out a sheet with the hymns on, so we could all sing along with the Queen.

Then at 10.45am the gates to the main house were opened and in the distance there was a small crowd of people walking towards us.

The police stood up to attention and turned and faced the crowds – ever vigilant I suppose – and all of a sudden the small crowd were about to pass and a respectful silence fell.

The unmistakable and smiling faces of William and Kate were in the lead, setting a relaxed pace with what appears to be a group of friends – they all had lovely clothes and shoes, I must say.

Kate, super slim and elegant, was in a dusky blue coat – I read later it was by Catherine Walker – and Prince William was in a suit and overcoat. He almost looked a little shy, but the couple exchanged a few 'Good Mornings', as they strolled past.

Kate, directly in front of us, looked over as Dad removed his hat and decided to bow his head – he likes the Royals too – and she said 'Happy New Year' in our direction. His day was made.

Their friends smiled and nodded at the crowds too and I couldn't help wondering who they might be and what Kate might be cooking up for their Sunday lunch.

Then, as Prince William was greeted by the Rector, with precision timing, the crowd turned as the Queen's huge state Bentley honed into view.

She is coming. She's here. She's out of the car!

I could see she was wearing a sort of eye-catching beigey tan coloured suit, I imagined with a half decent brooch as well, with what looked like fur cuffs. There was a handbag I'm sure too – probably with some collection money inside.

Within seconds a lady in waiting was also out of the car, the rector greeted her and as he escorted her up the steps – Her Majesty takes her time – she looked pretty switched on and sprightly to me – and, for a reason I can't really explain, I felt a little bit emotional watching this little lady, who serves her country with such grace and fortitude, among friends and going to church.

Then almost as soon as it started it was all over, the Royals and their friends were inside the church, the crowd quickly dispersed, the park filled with the strains of the organ playing the National Anthem and everyone said how lovely she looked, how it was worth the effort and how marvellous they all are.

Dad and I didn't hang around to wait to see them come out. It was getting cold, and time for a cup of coffee.