The Queen looked downcast as she arrived for church at Sandringham this morning, just a day before she will host crisis talks in a bid to find a solution to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s future roles.
Dressed in a camel-coloured coat and hat, Her Majesty was seen riding in the back of a chauffeur-driven vehicle, heading to the 16th century St Mary Magdalene Church.
For the first time, the 93-year-old monarch was pictured wearing a hearing aid in her right ear. The type of canal hearing aid is believed to only be for those suffering minor hearing loss.
But although the Queen is well into old age, she still has her hand firmly on the tiller of the Royal Family – demonstrated in her summoning Princes Charles, William and Harry to the Norfolk estate tomorrow for the unprecedented summit to chart a way out of the turmoil raging through their ranks.
Among those arriving to the church on foot today was the Princess Royal’s son Peter Phillips, who was pictured chatting to fellow guests.
When Mr Phillips, the Queen’s oldest grandson, was asked how she was bearing up, he responded that she was ‘alright’.
Ahead of Monday’s Sandringham showdown, William confided in a friend of his sadness that his once close relationship with Harry has soured.
As the feuding siblings prepare to come face to face tomorrow, the Duke of Cambridge said: ‘I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that any more – we’re separate entities,’ according to the Sunday Times.
Royal fans in the 250-strong crowd outside the church also spoke of their support for the Queen and their hopes that ‘a deal’ could be reached with Harry about his future when she holds a meeting with him.
On Monday, Her Majesty will be joined at her private estate by the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge for the crunch talks – where the ‘next steps’ will be decided, after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell announcement last week.
Charles was in Oman on Sunday to attend a condolence ceremony following the death Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, and is expected to travel back to the UK in time for the crisis talks.
The service which was broadcast to the crowd on loudspeakers outside the church began with the traditional singing of the National Anthem, followed by choral prayers which included one for the Queen and for the ‘righteousness’ of her ministers.
Further prayers were said by the Sandringham rector, the rev Canon Jonathan Riviere, for all members of the Royal family, professing the hope that be fortified by the Holy Spirit and ‘enriched with heavenly grace’.
The rector also led prayers for places where there was ‘ so much violence and suffering’, singling out the Middle East and areas of Australia ravaged by bush fires.
Speaking of the passenger jet shot down in Iran, he added: ‘We remember all those who died in the terrible plane disaster. We are praying for all those who died and their families at this time.’
In another prayer which could be taken as wishing for a good result in the Royal negotiations over Harry, he added: ‘We pray for all those who work for peace here and throughout the world.’
He added: ‘We pray for those who are in our thoughts at this time, those for whom we are especially concerned.’
The Bishop of Truro, the Right Rev Philip Mounstephen, gave a sermon comparing the first time that John the Baptist saw Jesus with the expectation of a theatre audience hoping to see a major star, only to find a busker performing when the curtain went up.
The Queen chatted to the Bishop as she emerged from the church after the 50 minute service.
The crowd erupted into a spontaneous round of applause for her as she walked down the porch steps
She smiled before getting back into her car, and then waved as she was driven back to Sandringham House.
Members of the public gathered to catch a glimpse of the Queen this morning, and gave their views on the royal crisis dubbed ‘Megxit’.
Paula Myhill, 38, who lives near Norwich, was the first to arrive, she said: ‘My view is that if they want to go they don’t get anything – they don’t get money, they don’t get titles.
‘If they don’t want to be part of the royals then they shouldn’t have the titles.
‘If they want to have security then they have to pay for it themselves the same way as a celebrity would.’
Ms Myhill said she feels sorry for the Queen, adding: ‘She’s had a bit of a bad year.’
Her mother, Sue Goodchild, 59, said: ‘She’s been exemplary in her role all her life.’
Ms Goodchild said she thinks the Queen will deal with the family summit ‘systematically’ and added: ‘That’s her grandson. Of course she’s going to protect him whatever she does. She’s a grandma.’ She added: ‘It’s hard for them all. Charles and William.’
Jean Acton, 70, from Fakenham, is queuing to get near the church on the Sandringham estate.
Asked about Harry and Meghan, she said: ‘I think they should give any monies back. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
‘I just think they’ve done the dirty on the Queen.’
Speaking about the Queen, she said: ‘I feel desperately sorry for her. It must be horrible. For any parent. Let alone if you’re a royal or not.’
She described the crisis as a ‘slap in the face’ for the Queen.
It comes as the Duke of Cambridge has said he is unable to even ‘put an arm round’ his younger brother nowadays, after a rift saw them drift apart over the past year.
Harry and Meghan’s intention to quit as senior Royals has widened the gulf between the two siblings, with William understood to be ‘incandescent’ over his brother’s blindsiding of the Family.
But as the brothers gear up to come face-to-face at the Queen’s high-stakes crisis summit at Sandringham on Monday, the second-in-line to the throne confided in a friend his raw agony over the cracked sibling bond.
William also spoke of his frustration that Harry is no longer part of the ‘team’ by deciding to become ‘financially independent’ in a pared-back Royal role.
Yet he hopes that there will ‘come a time’ when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be ‘singing from the same page’ once again.
The Queen, who was pictured ashen-faced behind the wheel of her Land Rover today, is also said to be concerned for the mental fragility of her grandson Harry.
It also emerged the Duke of Sussex pulled the trigger on his abdication decision because he feared his wife, who had not settled well in the UK, was ‘on the brink’ and could suffer a meltdown if she remained in the country permanently.
Anxious to avoid exacerbating an already tense situation, the Royal Family is keen to tread carefully. A source said: ‘There is no suggestion that they will be punished or stripped of their Royal titles or HRH status. Everyone wants to find a solution to this as quickly as possible.’
After laying down a 72-hour ultimatum to aides on Friday to hammer out a solution to the Sussexes’ future roles, Her Majesty summoned Princes Charles, William and Harry to her Norfolk Estate to put an end to the turmoil ravaging the monarchy – while Meghan is expected to join the discussions via a conference call from Canada.
Courtiers have quickly crashed together a document outlining several blueprints for Harry and Meghan’s new position within the Royal ranks.
Palace staff will also spell out the punitive taxes which could be inflicted on the couple, should they press ahead with their plans to resign from frontline duties.
However, the Sandringham Summit will extend to the ‘next steps’ for the entire monarchy, which is staring down the barrel of its worst crisis since 1992’s Annus Horriblis, when both Charles and Diana, and Andrew and Sarah Ferguson both divorced.
Commentators have drawn parallels between the New Way Ahead Group – when the senior Royals bunkered down 28 years ago to chart a path out of the chaos – and the Queen’s urgency to stamp out the Sussex situation immediately.
Ahead of the Firm’s unprecedented parley:
- ITV presenter and Sussex confidante Tom Bradby said the couple could give a ‘no-holds-barred’ interview that could further damage the Royal Family. Courtiers fear Meghan could brand the household racist;
- Royal aides were poised to spell out the punitive taxes that could be inflicted on Harry and Meghan if they press ahead with their plans to quit;
- A video from July emerged where Harry seemed to tell head of Disney Meghan is interested in doing voiceovers. She has since been given work with the company;
- Prince Philip was said to be livid with the current crisis ravaging the Family;
- A source rubbished speculation the Sussexes plan to settle down on Vancouver Island where they spent Christmas and instead touted Toronto or LA as potential cities;
- It emerged Meghan sneaked back to Vancouver Island on a £134 budget flight;
- It was revealed Meghan and Kate Middleton haven’t spoken in over six months after the sisters-in-law severed all communication on a family WhatsApp group
- Reuters reported that negotiations between Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Kensington Palace and the Sussex household has been progressing well;
- Her Majesty was pictured stony-faced as she emerged from her Norfolk estate behind the wheel of her Land Rover for the second day running
Growing up, William and Harry’s brotherly love seemed unbreakable, with the pair supporting each other in the wake of their mother Diana’s death.
As they both developed into their roles as senior members of the Royal Family, they became a somewhat double act who would do engagements together. Even when William married Kate, they would often attend events as a trio.
But during the past year rumours of a brewing row between the brothers began to bubble up, eventually boiling over when Harry and Meghan quit the charitable entity they spearheaded with the Cambridges and branched off to form their own.
In an ITV documentary earlier this year, Harry refused to deny speculation of the rift and said he and William were on ‘different paths’.
And it is not just the brothers who have drifted apart, as it was claimed last night that Meghan and Kate Middleton have not spoken in over six months after ceasing communication on their WhatsApp group, according to the Mirror.
The break-up of the so-called Fab Four, which was cemented when the Sussexes left Kensington Palace, weighed on Harry immensely at the time, a source told the Sunday Times.
They said: ‘Harry was very opposed to it at first. He saw it as the opening of a chasm between him and his brother. William was also concerned.’
But before the break-up, Harry had begun to feel ‘frustrated’ at being told not to take on certain projects or scale them back in favour of his brother, the paper reports.
To remedy growing tensions, it is believed that Kate was the one who dreamed up the Heads Together mental health charity as a way of of them coming together.
But the group charity only proved to be a temporary solution, with William now keen to distance the Cambridge camp from the Sussexes as far as possible to limit damage done to the family’s reputation, sources claim.
This may all be strategic, however, as the Sunday Times also reports that the brothers will ‘always be there for each other’ and that their father did envisage Harry and Meghan as part of the new ‘slimmed-down monarchy’.
As heir to the throne, William’s staff at Kensington Palace have spent the past few days bunkered down in talks aimed at resolving the crisis raging through the Windsor ranks.
The Duke of Cambridge will weigh in on the ‘Sussex situation’ at the summit where Harry and Meghan will be confronted with the dire financial impact of abandoning the Royal Family at an extraordinary Sandringham summit tomorrow.
Each of the four Royals are expected to be accompanied by their respective private secretaries – Sir Edward Young (Queen), Clive Alderton (Charles), Simon Case (William) and Fiona Mcilwham (Harry).
Ms Mcilwham, who recently joined the Sussex household from the Foreign Office, is said to have joked with colleagues: ‘I was offered the Iran desk [at the FCO]. That might have been easier’.
Among the sticking points to be thrashed out at the Sandringham summit are whether Harry and Meghan will keep their HRH titles, whether they will continue to perform royal duties abroad, the subject of their funding, and rules regarding commercial deals they hope to strike as they become ‘financially independent’.
Royal aides and Government officials have drawn up a range of scenarios setting out the ‘stark implications’ faced by Harry and Meghan if they abandon or dramatically scale back their royal duties – including a major tax trap.
In what sources described as a ‘reality check moment’, Harry will travel to Sandringham for a showdown with the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. Meghan is expected to join by phone from Canada, where she is caring for their eight-month-old son, Archie.
A senior source said a solution that is ‘compatible with taxpayers, compatible with reality and compatible with the Queen’ was being sought.
But the mood is likely to be tense. The Mail on Sunday understands that anger over Harry and Meghan’s defiance of an order not to go public with their so-called ‘abdication’ plan has been compounded by the suggestion – denied by Palace sources – that the couple told Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about their move before the Queen.
There is also speculation the couple’s close friend Sir Elton John knew about the decision before the Queen.
Meanwhile, Meghan has been telling friends that a move to North America will be a welcome relief from her ‘toxic’ life in Britain.
Back in the UK, royal sources believe Harry’s ‘stubborn’ nature will mean he will remain determined to see his and Meghan’s split from the family through.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Prince Harry will be handed documents, compiled following discussions with HMRC and the Canadian tax authority, that will set out in detail the financial penalties for a range of scenarios.
These include a so-called hard Megxit involving a permanent move to North America and a soft Megxit in which the couple split their time between Britain and overseas and retain full, active Royal roles.
Harry will be told that he would face a potential ‘double tax’ on any commercial income and a large bill for Frogmore Cottage, his home in Windsor, if he and Meghan decide to ditch their royal duties and relocate abroad.
The bill could run into millions of pounds. Canada requires residents – anyone who spends 183 days or more in the country – and some property owners to pay income tax on their global earnings. Similar rules apply in the UK, but the limit is 90 days.
It would mean that Harry might have to give up his UK residency or limit his time in Canada, else risk being double-taxed on any commercial income, paying in both countries.
Meghan, who is an American citizen, already has to pay tax in the US on any global earnings regardless of where she lives.
The couple may also face hefty charges on any funding they get from Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate and could have to pay rent at commercial levels for Frogmore Cottage, which underwent a taxpayer-funded £2.4 million refurbishment before the couple moved in. The couple currently receive annual funding, also of about £2.4 million, mostly from Charles.
There is also genuine concern about the mental fragility of the couple – particularly Harry – so aides are doing all they can to try to ease any transition.
They understood to have devised plans to offer special arrangements to reduce the couple’s tax liability if they agree to a fuller royal role.
A royal source last night told The Mail on Sunday: ‘This meeting will give the Duke and Duchess an unvarnished look at the full implications of their choices.
‘Lots of assumptions have been made about how things can work, but this will be the time for workable decisions to be made in the full knowledge of the consequences and implications, however unappealing.’
Another Palace source said: ‘There are a range of possibilities to review.
‘Next steps will be agreed at the meeting. The request for this to be resolved at pace is still Her Majesty’s wish. The aim remains days not weeks.’
Wayne Bewick, an expert on the Canadian tax system for the firm Trowbridge, said: ‘Harry’s duties for the Crown could be considered employment income for Canadian purposes.’
In addition to discussion of the Sussex finances, the Sandringham summit will discuss any potential new role for Harry.
He is already President of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which focuses on projects involving children, but one option might be to extend that role to make it easier to spend time in Canada.
There was no sign of Meghan yesterday at the £11 million mansion on Vancouver Island where she and Harry finalised their plan to scale back their royal duties over the New Year.
But in a sign of the couple’s wish to spend considerable time in North America, they have moved their pet dogs to the property.
Despite the crisis, Palace sources say Harry will honour his commitment to host the draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup at Buckingham Palace on Thursday after which he is expected to fly to Canada to be reunited with his wife and son.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Harry Cole, Kate Mansey, Joe Middleton and Jack Elsom