Hundreds gather for Queen's Christmas appearance

By Simon Dedman
BBC News

image captionThe Queen spoke to children who had queued outside church

Every year hundreds of people go to Sandringham, Norfolk, for the chance to wish the Queen and her family a merry Christmas.

As early as 6am they turn up at the estate gates, armed with chairs, blankets, thick coats and hats, some clasping flasks, as they seek to get a prime spot.

Most travel from across the country and some from beyond these shores.

Sheila Clark arrived at 6:30am and has been making the journey down from Glasgow for many years.

She said: "It means such a lot to me, I don't have any family of my own anymore. I used to come with my late mother and it's nice to share Christmas Day with other people I know, enjoy the service here and see members of the Royal Family."

After the church service, the Queen, dressed in a turquoise coat and matching hat, immediately started to meet the 70 or so children who were diligently waiting in a queue to meet her.

Many were holding flowers and dressed in their best. Helped by her granddaughter Eugenie, the Queen received the flowers and spoke to every one of the children in turn. Katie Barnes said it had been her "one dream" to meet the Queen - she and her sister Maggie both gave her flowers.

After curtseying, Katie told the Queen her middle name is Elizabeth - to which the Queen is said to have told her "it's a very lovely name".

Other members of the Royal Family mixed among the crowd of well-wishers. Princess Anne picked up a glove that had been dropped by one elderly lady in a wheelchair who she had been talking to.

The Duchess of Cornwall, dressed in a purple coat, received flowers and wished people a merry Christmas in return.

image captionThe Duchess of Cornwall was among many Royal Family members attending

Prince Andrew had some advice on how stay warm to those waiting to see him and his family.

Senny Stanford said he had advised her to put a newspaper or carrier bag under her feet to keep them warm - advice she said she would bear in mind for next time as her "feet are frozen".

The public turnout was lower than last year when the Duchess of Cambridge spent her first Christmas at Sandringham. She and the duke were not present this year, but still about 1,000 people travelled to the estate.

The media presence was significantly lower too, with around a third fewer press photographers than there were last year.

As the Queen made her way to her car while the rest of the family walked back to the main house, one member of the public cried out: "Three cheers for the Queen."

A few hundred people responded "hip hip hurrah", ending the Queen's Christmas public engagement at the close of her Diamond Jubilee year.