The Queen visits HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth

The Queen on a visit to Portsmouth Credit: PA Images

The Queen has flown on board the Royal Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth to wish the crew well as they make final preparations to depart on the carrier's first operational deployment.

The £3 billion warship, with eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart later on Saturday for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.

The Queen was greeted by the ship's commanding officer Captain Angus Essenhigh,and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG), as she arrived by helicopter on board the aircraft carrier at Portsmouth Naval Base.

The Queen on board warship HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth Credit: PA Images

The Queen also had a chance to meet some of the 1,700 personnel on board the carrier which include Royal Navy sailors, Royal Air Force airmen and women, Royal Marines, and 250 United States personnel.

Her visit followed a tour by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday. She was wearing a brick-red military-style cashmere coat with a black velvet collar and buttons, over a crepe wool dress by Stewart Parvin and a Rachel Trevor-Morgan hat. She was also wearing a scarab brooch which was a gift from the Duke of Edinburgh.

It is understood that the Queen is keen to recommence more public engagements in the coming months instead of the virtual events which have taken up much of her schedule since the pandemic hit.

The Queen presented a medal for 15 years' long service and good conduct to Petty Officer Matthew Ready, 38, from Gosport, Hampshire. He said: "It was an incredible honour for me and my family."<

Her Majesty's tour follows a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

The 28-week deployment will cover 26,000 nautical miles travelling through theMediterranean to the Red Sea, then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea andIndian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the deployment "will be flying the flag for Global Britain - projecting our influence, signalling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow."

The carrier had not been expected to return to Portsmouth after taking part in a major exercise off Scotland and the CSG had been expected to gather in the Solent prior to departure. But heavy winds led to the unscheduled stop in the naval base with most of the other ships waiting at Devonport to regroup before sailing for the Mediterranean.