Royals gather at Sandringham

SUE SKINNER The Queen and other members of the Royal Family were today preparing to celebrate Christmas in Norfolk.A large party is gathering at the Queen's private country home at Sandringham, which has been the venue for the royal festivities for nearly 20 years.

SUE SKINNER

The Queen and other members of the Royal Family are today preparing to celebrate Christmas in Norfolk.

A large party is gathering at the Queen's private country home at Sandringham, which has been the venue for the royal festivities for nearly 20 years.

The seasonal gathering was moved back there in 1988 after a break of 25 years, because Windsor Castle was being rewired.

On Christmas Day, the Queen and the rest of the royal party will attend morning service at the church of St Mary Magdalene on the estate.

Royal watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of Prince Harry will be disappointed, as the 22-year-old Army officer is on duty for his regiment, the Blues and Royals, at Windsor over the festive period.

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His elder brother, Prince William, 24, who graduated from Sandhurst last week, is expected at Sandringham, although his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, is understood to be spending Christmas with her family.

The traditional attendance at church on Christmas Day presents a rare opportunity to see so many members of the family together.

The royal party is also likely to include the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Princess Royal and her children, Peter Phillips, 29, and Zara Phillips, 25, and husband, Rear Admiral Timothy Laurence, the Duke of York and his daughters, Princess Beatrice, 18 and Princess Eugenie, 16, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

The service, conducted by the rector of the Sandringham group of parishes, the Rev Jonathan Riviere, starts at 11am.

Police said today that there would be no public access to the area outside the church for Sunday morning's service.

Royal attendances are expected at Sandringham Church again on December 30, January 7 and January 14, with further services at Hillington Church on January 21, back at Sandringham on January 28 and at West Newton, including the annual Sunday school prize-giving, on February 4, before the Queen returns to London.

t The ice rink which has been installed outside the visitor centre at Sandringham for the festive season will be closed on Christmas Day and is now fully booked for tomorrow, Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and Wednesday. A few evening slots are left for Thursday