One of my bucket list items while living in England was to see the Queen in person. The easiest way to do that is to watch her enter/exit the church she attends during her winter stay at her country estate. The Queen attends the same church for about 2 months and we only live an hour from Sandringham. You can read about our first visit to her country home here: Sandringham House and Apple Picking.
See the Queen: Round 1
We had been going back and forth on whether we wanted to drive there on Christmas Sunday for about the two months prior. Up until Christmas Eve I still didn’t know if I wanted to go or wait until the following week. We already read the reports that Will, Kate, George and Charlotte were spending the holiday with Kate’s family. We also knew the Queen and Duke had been very sick that week. When we woke up Christmas morning we had breakfast, opened some gifts, checked the weather and upon seeing it was going to be a nice day, decided to hop in the car and just go with low expectations.
On the way to Sandringham we did hear on the radio the Queen was too sick to attend church. It was disheartening since we really wanted to see her but also worrisome considering she has never missed this service…ever! Naturally, being that she is 90 years old a cold can be serious. We decided to keep on our way and hoped other members of the royal family would be attending.
The church service begins at 11:00 and we arrived at 10:40 with just enough time to walk down the long road of cars to the security area and then make our way to the church. Sandringham estate has a walkway leading to the small Mary St. Magdalene church. The royal family will walk this path but the Queen and Duke arrive by car and are dropped off at the church steps. The path is roped off so that you may stand on either side of the road to watch their arrival. Many people arrive very early in the morning for the Christmas service to get a good spot to see the Queen. Since she is dropped off you would need to be fairly close to the church to get a good view. However, on this unique day with the Queen being ill, my priority became getting a good spot along the pathway in order to have interaction with another royal. I was also told that due to so many royal members not attending that day the Christmas service crowd was much smaller than usual.
We were about 4 rows back when the family started their way to the church. On their way in they walked at a faster pace and just waved and smiled at the crowd. Christmas day is the only time they allow the public to take pictures of them on their private property….so keep this in mind if you decide to go any other Sunday in the winter. You will not be able to take pictures! So being the only day it was allowed everyone was snapping away. Due to being short I pretty much had to raise my camera above my head and hope for the best! We saw all of the Queens’s children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, as well as their children. The Duke of Edinburgh then arrived by car and was dropped off at the bottom of the church stairs. So this is another thing to keep in mind with going to Sandringham really early: you will not have any interaction with the royals until after the church service is over.
While the royals attended service the boys ran around and made friends. I noticed the other side of the pathway had less people so when they let down the rope to allow people to cross… I made my way over there fast. I looked for the shortest person I could find and stood behind her. I spoke to this woman, her mother and father the majority of the service. They were pretty hilarious. She told me that coming to Sandringham to see the royals was a family tradition. Her father had a step stool so that he could stand behind her and take pictures of her talking to Prince Harry. She has a thing for Harry. The stool idea is really pretty clever. Next year I will definitely bring a stool because then it doesn’t matter what time you arrive…you will get a view!
She was joking around and putting on her chapstick in anticipation of their kiss. This woman was a riot…I liked her. I told her I had read that the royals are more likely to chat with children that have flowers. She agreed to let Kellan stand in front of her with his 3 bouquets and use him as her bait.
When the royals exit the church they stop for pictures and then proceed back towards the estate via the walkway. Unlike when they enter, they walk slowly and stop and talk to well wishers. It was definitely true that they are more likely to stop for anyone bearing flowers or gifts. They will also stop for dogs and people in wheelchairs. Our plan worked and everyone that was walking on our side of the pathway stopped and talked to Kellan. Camilla (future Queen consort) came buy and said hello and received his flowers. Princess Anne (the Queen’s daughter) also stopped and spoke with us; even asking Kellan why he wasn’t wearing his coat. I was so proud of how sweet and polite my boy was!
Anne stopped to talk with us for so long that Harry proceeded down the path without stopping on our side since we were already speaking with someone. We decided to run down to the end of the path in order to get a second chance of an encounter. I ran down, stuck out my hand and said “Merry Christmas” and he shook my hand. YES! In case you didn’t know: Harry has worked very closely with the US military, has aided programs for wounded warriors, and everyone that has met him says he is very humble and down to earth. So…we like Prince Harry!
See the Queen: Round 2
The following week was the new year’s service and we had intended on going. When we woke up that morning we searched for news of the Queen’s health and it was reported she was still too ill to attend church. We considered going and seeing if Will and Kate would be in attendance but the weather was cold and rainy. It ended up being a lazy day at home.
See the Queen: Round 3
It was two weeks after Christmas and we decided not to get to the church before the service at 11 to watch the royals arrive. Instead, we showed up about 15 minutes before they were due to exit. There was hardly anyone there and we walked right up to the the front. We made conversation with the family next to us and they informed us that the Queen, Will, Kate, and the Middleton family were in attendance. Basically everyone we did not get to see the last time. It was their first time visiting Sandringham and they also had two boys that were very sweet with mine. They dug for worms and played with a ball I brought along. I asked them “What should we say if they stop and talk to us? Last time we wished them a merry Christmas”. They had no idea what we would say either….so we settled on saying “Happy new year” being that it was only one week into 2017.
The Queen and Duke exited the church first. The crowd cheered as it was her first public appearance in a month due to being in bad health. They waved, got into a burgundy Bentley, and were driven back to her home. Will, Kate, and the Middletons walked the path and stopped to talk to well wishers. I am really kicking myself in the rear for not bringing flowers. Had Kellan brought some they would have stopped and chatted. In fact, no one in attendance had brought any which would have increased our chances; especially being that the crowd was so small. Will stopped and chatted to a woman in a wheelchair. Kate stopped to pet a small dog. The Middletons sort of stood back and waved. As they neared us we just smiled, waved, and said “happy new year”. They wished us a happy new year back and began to walk off. As they began to leave Kellan started loudly yelling “BYE! BYE!”, to which Pippa Middleton stopped and said “He is so cute!”. Pippa and Kate are absolutely gorgeous in person, by the way.
Due to being private property, you are not allowed to take pictures of the royals at the church. Christmas day is the only day they allow pictures to be taken. Paparazzi line up just off the property to get zoomed shots of the family and pictures of the Queen driving away in her car. I am so excited that we got to see all the royals during our time in England. It was really easy considering it took 3 weeks to see the Queen. I do wish we had pictures of the Queen, Will and Kate! I snuck a picture after they were far past the gate. You can view paparazzi pictures from that day here: The Queen at Sandringham
For 2017 we decided to go back to Sandringham for Christmas as this year it was confirmed the Queen, Harry, Will and Kate would all be attendance. It was also Meghan Markle’s debut with the royal family. The line was insanely long and we almost gave up. We were able to watch the Queen drive in. Once the service started a flood of people left the line and we were able to make it through security and on to the property by the time the royals left the church. They didn’t stop to chat very much this year but I did get a great shot of Meghan looking directly at me!