The King and members of the Royal Family have attended the Christmas service on the Sandringham estate near King’s Lynn in Norfolk following a long-standing tradition of the late Queen.
Charles, 74, and the 75-year-old Queen Consort walked the short distance from Sandringham House to St Mary Magdalene Church. King Charles and Queen Camilla were joined by the Prince and Princess of Wales, their children and other members of the family at the church as they were greeted by dozens of wellwishers.
Also in the walking group was the disgraced Duke of York. The Earl and Countess of Wessex were also in the group. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who live in California, were absent. Members of the royal family were greeted outside the church by the Reverend Canon Dr Paul Rhys Williams before they climbed the steps to the church and the National Anthem was sung before the first hymn, O Come, All Ye Faithful.
A queue had formed hours before the Christmas Day church service was due to start.
At the front was John Loughrey, of Streatham, south London, who said he arrived at 7pm on Christmas Eve and camped out overnight with his friend Sky London, 62.
Retired assistant chef Mr Loughrey said they took a train from London to King’s Lynn in Norfolk, then a bus to Sandringham where they are staying at a local hotel, around 15 minutes’ walk from St Mary Magdalene church.
The 67-year-old, who wore a Union Jack hat, gloves and hoody, said he slept in a tinfoil blanket to ensure a place at the front of the queue.
“We were both shivering,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep properly.”
Mr Loughrey said: “We wanted to come here to show our appreciation to King Charles III and his Queen Consort and of course the Prince of Wales.
“Because of losing the Queen, it’s a sad time for the family and I’m sure they will mention the Queen in the church today.
“It will be in King Charles’s thoughts about his mother, about her legacy, they will be thinking about it over Christmas.
“It’s going to be a sad time and a happy time for them. That’s how it’s got to be.”
It has been a particularly poignant festive season for the family, returning to Sandringham for the first time since Queen Elizabeth's death in September. It has long been a Christmas tradition to gather at the Norfolk estate for the festive period although the Covid pandemic brought it to a halt in recent years. In 2020 and 2021, the late Queen remained at Windsor Castle - the first year with the Duke of Edinburgh, and last year alone following his death. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were absent from the festivities following their departure from the royal family in 2020. They last made an appearance at Sandringham in 2018.
Following the Christmas church service, there is a family lunch with turkey and all the trimmings.
Then traditionally, members of the royal family sit down to watch the monarch’s televised address, the first by King Charles, when it aired at 3pm.
Charles recorded his Christmas message earlier in December in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The King has used his first Christmas broadcast to sympathise with families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and praise individuals, charities and faith groups supporting those in need.
Charles spoke about the “great anxiety and hardship” experienced by many trying to “pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm” during his televised message, which featured footage of a food bank and other scenes of meals being distributed to the homeless.
A photograph of the King recording the message was released by Buckingham Palace on the day before Christmas Eve.
The King started his first Christmas holiday at Sandringham as monarch by making a donation to a charity providing relief to people in fuel poverty. The Fuel Bank Foundation said financial donations, sent to the King in condolence cards after the death of the late Queen, have been passed on to the charity along with an undisclosed donation from Charles via the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund. Matthew Cole, head of the foundation, said: “We are extremely grateful for the kind and generous donation from His Majesty the King. The money will be used to help keep vulnerable people warm this winter, offering some physical and mental respite from the challenges posed by the energy and cost-of-living crisis.”
Sandringham House has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs for more than 160 years, and now belongs to the King. The late Queen made her first Christmas broadcast from Sandringham in 1952 and celebrated the eve of her Platinum Jubilee there just seven months before her death. It was bought in 1862 by the then Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, as a private country retreat. The house was rebuilt in 1870 to ensure it was big enough for his growing family.