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Queen misses Christmas church service at Sandringham due to heavy cold

The Queen has missed the annual Christmas Day church service at Sandringham for the first time due to a heavy cold - but was still up and about enjoying the festivities.

Members of the Royal Family attended the ceremony without the Queen who is resting at her private home after becoming ill some days ago.

The Queen has enjoyed her annual Christmas break at her Norfolk residence since 1988, when she moved festive arrangements from Windsor Castle, and every year attended the service at Sandringham's St Mary Magdalene Church.

But the heavy cold, which delayed the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh's journey from Buckingham Palace to Norfolk a few days ago, has persisted and she remains at Sandringham House.

Yet the monarch has not stayed in bed with her cold but is up and about and would be having Christmas lunch with her family.

Ahead of the service this morning a Buckingham Palace spokesman said the Queen would not be attending.

He added: "The Queen continues to recover from a heavy cold and will stay indoors to assist with her recovery. Her Majesty will participate in the Royal Family Christmas celebrations during the day.''

Philip also came down with a heavy cold a few days ago but the hundreds of well-wishers who turned out see the royals make their way to and from church, were treated to the sight of the Queen's consort.

He was joined on the short walk between Sandringham House and the church by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and other members of the family.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte, broke with tradition and spent Christmas Day with Kate's parents Carole and Michael Middleton and her siblings.

They all attended a church service close to the Middletons' home in the Berkshire village of Bucklebury.

William and Kate were photographed walking through the grounds of St Mark's Church in Englefield, where the Duchess' sister Pippa is expected to marry her financier fiance James Matthews in May.

Hundreds of local residents traditionally turn out to see the Queen and her family attend the annual Christmas Day service.

It is thought the Queen has not missed a Christmas Day service at either Sandringham or Windsor Castle, the previous location for the monarch's festive break, in living memory.

Despite their advancing years, the monarch and her consort appear to remain in good health and have missed few official engagements in recent years due to illness.

The Queen was treated for the symptoms of gastroenteritis in 2013 and stayed overnight in a private hospital being assessed by doctors, and cancelled an official trip to Rome.

And in June last year Buckingham Palace took the unusual step of confirming the Queen's visit to a private hospital for a routine medical check-up following speculation on social media about the state of her health.

Philip joked about his good health last month during a visit with the Queen to London's Francis Crick Institute - a major biomedical research centre - where he asked a flu expert: ''Why haven't I had flu for the last 40 years?''

In May, an undisclosed minor ailment forced the Duke to miss commemorations marking the anniversary of the First World War Battle of Jutland in Orkney.

The Queen's granddaughter Zara Tindall and her husband Mike Tindall did not attend the service after they announced in a statement on Christmas Eve that they had lost their second baby.

The baby had been due around late spring and would have been the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's sixth great-grandchild.

The Prince of Wales, in a brown coat and carrying an umbrella, and Duchess of Cornwall in a blue coat were joined by Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence, Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn and their daughters Isla and Savannah, and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie

More than 1,000 well-wishers gathered in mild conditions to join in the festivities, which began with the National Anthem followed by the hymn Once In Royal David's City.

As the royals left the service, Prince Harry chatted and joked with some of the crowd.

Ada Nesbitt, 93, decorated her wheelchair for the occasion, and also wore tinsel and Santa earmuffs.

Her daughter Jane Nesbitt, 56, from Norfolk, said: "Harry said you expect to get noticed, dressed like that.

"It's a pity to miss the Queen but if she's not well she's not well.

"We thought the Duke of Edinburgh wasn't coming but he obviously did his best."

The Duke of Edinburgh left the church by Range Rover and the rest of the royals walked back to the house where they will enjoy a Christmas lunch this afternoon.

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