The young royals keeping up a Norfolk Christmas link
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Royal watchers will share the Queen's disappointment that she will not be spending Christmas in Norfolk for the second year running.
But there is still expected to be a royal presence in the county over the festive season, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family thought to be staying here over Christmas.
The couple and their three young children are understood to be spending at least part of the holiday at Anmer Hall, their mansion on the Sandringham Estate which was their main residence while Prince William was working as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
Although they are not expected to take part in any public engagements, it does mean the royal family's Christmas link with the county - which has now lasted for several generations - continues this year.
The royals have been gathering at Sandringham since the 1860s, when Queen Victoria bought the house for her son Prince Albert, the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
In 1932, King George V delivered the first Christmas Day royal message live from a temporary studio set up at Sandringham House.
During the 1960s, when the Queen's children were young, many Christmases were celebrated at Windsor.
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But since 1988, when the castle was being rewired, royal Christmases have returned to Sandringham, with familiar traditions and routines.
Each year, large crowds have gathered to greet the Queen and her family at St Mary Magdalene church, when they attend the morning service on Christmas Day.
As the tradition has grown, the world's media has also descended on the estate and the event has been broadcast to millions around the world, sending out a Christmas message from Norfolk.
The Queen's decision to spend this Christmas at Windsor Castle, announced earlier this week, was taken as a "precautionary" measure amid rising coronavirus cases.
The 95-year-old Queen has spent much of this year at the Berkshire castle, where she and her late husband Prince Philip remained while shielding throughout the lockdowns, including last Christmas.
This Christmas will be the first since the death of the prince, who passed away in April at the age of 99.
A royal source said the Queen will be visited by members of the royal family over the Christmas period after taking the "personal" decision to stay in Berkshire.
It has not yet been confirmed where the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be spending festive period, although it is understood the Cambridges will be at Anmer Hall for at least part of it.
The family have frequently returned to stay at the secluded 10-bedroom hall during the lockdowns. In a recent podcast, the Prince said: "We spend as much time as we can here, it's very peaceful."
Fewer than 70 people live in the village, which lies along a tree-lined lane from Sandringham House.
Although the family are not expected to take part in any public engagements, in previous years the Duchess has been seen shopping for last minute items, including at the Range in King's Lynn, while the couple sometimes eat out at one of the gastro pubs in villages close to Anmer.
Royal watcher's disappointment for second year
Royal fan Mary Relph was a regular visitor to Sandringham, attending almost every Christmas Day since 1988.
Her fascination with the Royal Family began when she attended the Sandringham Flower Show as a 10-year-old girl and met the Queen Mother.
Retired van driver Mrs Relph, 88, from Shouldham, near Downham Market, has a home packed full of memorabilia she has collected over the years.
She said she had already decided not to go to Sandringham this year, before it emerged the Queen would not be coming to Norfolk for Christmas for the second year running.
"I'd already made my mind up I wouldn't be there, not with all those people about," she said. "I've been nearly every Christmas since 1988, I've missed three."
Mrs Relph said she thought the Queen had made the right decision.
"She loves Sandringham but I think she's being very wise," she added. "She's very wise not to come down with all those people about."
Just hoping for another nice picture
Nurse Karen Anvil hit the headlines and scooped a small fortune when a picture of Royal Family members walking to church on Christmas Day, 2017, made front pages around the world.
Ms Anvil, from Watlington, near Downham Market, later likened capturing the snap on her mobile phone as "like winning the lottery".
The proceeds helped to pay for home improvements and support her daughter Rachel, now 21, through university.
Ms Anvil, 43, who works at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, was planning to return to Sandringham this year.
"I was really excited, it was almost going to be a like a little bit of normality," she said.
"I've had long Covid most of the year, I've only been able to walk for six weeks, I just wanted to do something different.
"I was so looking forward to going and now it's just a predictable end to a rubbish year."
Ms Anvil was hoping to capture a picture of the Queen, to go with her shot of the so-called Fab Four - Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex.
"I'm still proud of it and the other pictures I've taken over the years," she said.
Ms Anvil added she was also looking forward to seeing the Cambridges - who she came across last year when the Royals were shopping in Sainsbury's in King's Lynn.
"It was lovely," she said. "Kate was pushing her trolley, Princess Charlotte was looking at ballerina outfits."
Jubilee begins elsewhere
After celebrating Christmas with her family, the Queen's festive break would have seen her reach a major milestone.
For had she stayed at Sandringham until early February, as was usual pre-pandemic, the monarch would have started her Platinum Jubilee year in Norfolk.
Elizabeth II acceded to the throne at the age of 25 on February 6, 1952, after her father King George VI passed away in his sleep at Sandringham.
Celebrations are planned around the country and around the world to make 70 years of her reign, with a special four-day Bank Holiday weekend set to start on Thursday, June 2.
There will be parades and pageants, as well as beacon lightings, street parties and other events to mark the Queen's seven decades as head of state.
Like millions around the country, the monarch will doubtless hope things will have returned to some semblance of normality by then.