Princess Charlotte‘s Christmas Day got off to ‘very early start’, her mother the Duchess of Cambridge told eager well-wishers who had queued since dawn to greet the royal family at the traditional Sandringham church service.
The excitable four-year-old princess was this year considered old enough to attend the annual service, alongside her big brother George, six, and stole the show by cheerily waving and greeting the royal fans – before melting hearts as she stopped to hug wheelchair bound Gemma Clark, who had waited all morning to say hello.
Ms Clark, 39, who travelled from Long Sutton in Lincolnshire with her family, gave Charlotte an inflatable flamingo and said she seemed pleased with the gift.
She said George and Charlotte were ‘brilliant’ and that they both hugged her. ‘It made my day,’ she added. ‘I’ve never seen the royal family, ever. This is my first time at Sandringham and I would love to do it again.’
Taking to her royal duties with aplomb, Princess Charlotte also greeted twins Thomas and Theresa Richman, nine, who were delighted when they presented the Cambridges with flowers.
The siblings, who suffer from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, were able to secure a place in front of the main crowds in their wheelchairs and spoke to both George and Charlotte.
Their overjoyed mother told The Daily Telegraph: ‘It was absolutely stunning – I survived breast cancer six years ago so to still be here and see that today with the children was absolutely tremendous.
‘I think this has made our Christmas and made our year, it was a real honour to meet them all.’
George and his little sister Charlotte walked the short distance from Sandringham House to St Mary Magdalene Church hand in hand with their parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Charlotte looked adorable in her emerald swing coat which perfectly matched her mother’s accessories.
The Prince of Wales walked alongside them as he greeted fans who had been waiting outside for hours in the biting cold.
One-year-old Prince Louis stayed at the house.
Fans praised Charlotte’s ‘impeccable’ manners and ‘cheeky’ persona as they gifted her presents including a teddy and a pink flamingo toy.
Karen Anvil, who famously took a picture of the ‘Fab Four’ – the Cambridges and Sussexes two years ago – gifted Charlotte a doll this morning. Ms Anvil then captured a photo of the four-year-old.
When Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, courtiers had high hopes they would form a ‘Fab Four’ with William and Kate.
The two couples duly appeared on stage together to promote their Royal Foundation, with officials briefing it would be the first of many such events. But the four split their charity earlier this year and have not been seen together as a foursome in public since.
Ms Anvil told Sky News: ‘Charlotte came over with her mum, she liked the doll. Her manners are outstanding – but she’s cheeky, she wasn’t at all scared.’
She said Prince George’s manners were also ‘perfect’.
Back at the house, the family traditionally indulge in turkey, reared at Sandringham, before settling down to watch TV, including the Queen’s Christmas Speech.
The royals’ appearance comes at the culmination of a tumultuous year for the family, in which Prince Andrew was forced to step down from public duties, Prince Philip faced a police probe over a car crash, Prince Harry acknowledged tensions in his relationship with his elder brother William, and Harry’s wife Meghan admitted she was struggling with her new life as a royal.
Addressing the atmosphere at Sandringham, marred by Prince Andrew’s absence in the wake of his car-crash Newsnight interview, she said: ‘This morning there was a different feel – there were lots of questions about Andrew and so many theories about whether he’d be here or not.
‘I’ve been here for three years, and this year it is definitely different. But it is packed here.’
The 93-year-old Queen, wearing a red coat and hat, arrived at the church in a maroon Bentley with the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Duke of Edinburgh, 98, who was discharged from hospital on Christmas Eve, was at Sandringham but did not attend church.
He had spent four nights at the King Edward VII Hospital in London to receive treatment for a ‘pre-existing condition’.
Philip, who retired from public duties in 2017, did not attend last year’s church service either despite being in good health at the time.
The Duke of York, who has had a tumultuous end to the year after his disastrous appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, walked side by side with Charles to a service at 9am but did not attend the 11am service.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Rod Ardehali and Amie Gordon