The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s whistle-stop tour of Britain by royal train concluded at Windsor Castle this afternoon, where the Queen joined them in thanking local volunteers and key workers.
The 94-year-old monarch’s appearance was the first time she has been seen in public with her son Prince Charles and other senior members of the Royal Family en masse since before the coronavirus pandemic began.
She was treated to a Christmas carol band performance on the steps of her home as she welcomed William and Kate.
The couple stood socially distanced nearby, as did the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Queen’s daughter Anne.
Despite the festivities happening on the doorstep of Windsor Castle there was no sign of the Queen’s husband Prince Philip, with many on social media raising question about his whereabouts.
Although he officially retired from royal duties in August 2017 the 99-year-old, who turns 100 in six months, is often seen accompanying the Queen.
The Cambridge’s trip to support the nation provoked veiled criticisms from Welsh and Scottish ministers, who raised concern about the timing of the visits while Covid cases are still prevalent and many parts of the UK are subject to strict Covid rules.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he believes the 1,250 mile tour was a ‘welcome morale boost’ after Downing Street officials initially refused to say it complied with coronavirus restrictions.
The Queen could be seen quietly singing along as a Salvation Army band played festive tunes including Hark The Herald Angels Sing and The First Noel.
Commissioners Anthony and Gillian Cotterill, territorial leaders for The Salvation Army in the UK and Republic of Ireland, came forward to speak to the Queen who told them ‘nobody’s allowed to sing anymore’.
Mr Cotterill said afterwards: ‘The Queen was saying she was just so happy we were able to play some carols because she thinks this will be the only time she’ll be able to hear carols, and she was disappointed we didn’t sing.
‘Sometimes we’re playing musicians and other times we’re a choir, at an event like this it’s better to have the band as you can hear it for miles.’
Mrs Cotterill added: ‘I did see the Queen mouthing some of the words – so that was nice.’
After the Queen left, the remaining royals chatted to local volunteers and charity workers in a marquee where the guests were served mulled wine and a non-alcoholic punch and mince pies.
In contrast to the views of the Welsh and Scottish politicians, nursery headteacher Sarah Cottle, 49, said: ‘It’s been great that the Cambridges have done this tour, nice to see them recognising the work schools have done.’
Earlier, Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething had said he would prefer it if ‘no-one was having unnecessary visits’ before William and Kate travelled to Cardiff Castle and met students.
The comments echoed veiled criticism from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who emphasised that her office had made plain the restrictions in place before the Cambridges travelled to Edinburgh yesterday.
When challenged on whether the couple had complied with the rules, a No 10 spokesman said: ‘I’m making the general point that we have set out the regionalised tier system that is now in place and the guidance that we are asking people to abide by.’
But an hour later a statement issued by No 10 confirmed Mr Johnson’s support.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The PM is delighted to see the warm reception the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have received on their hugely valuable train tour of England, Scotland and Wales.
‘The tour will be a welcome morale boost to frontline workers who have done so much during the pandemic.’
The couple began their third and final tour day by visiting Cardiff Castle, where they met university students and heard about the mental health challenges they faced during the pandemic.
As they chatted, William and Kate admitted they were struggling with Christmas plans, suggesting they had yet to decide who to spend the festive period with.
‘It is so difficult, we are still trying to make plans. It’s difficult to know what to do for the best,’ said the duke.
At the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, William told NHS nurses ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ as he praised them for their Covid-19 efforts.
The duke and duchess also spoke about the ‘good news’ as the first coronavirus vaccines were administered, and at Cleeve Court Care Home in Twerton, Bath, they paid tribute to the efforts of staff across the country.
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