Huge crowds greet Duchess at first Christmas with the royals

The crowd began gathering in the darkness well before dawn. More than 30 people were waiting outside St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, by 6.00am.

Two hours later several hundred, many carrying bouquets and posies, had turned up, most explaining that they had come to see the newest star of the royal family Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, as she arrived for the 11.00am Christmas church service.

So around 9.00 am these early arrivals were surprised to see the Queen’s children and grandchildren, walking down the path from Sandringham House to the church. Some mistakenly thought the time of the service had been put forward but the royal family were simply on their way to a private communion service.

Prince William, his wife Kate dressed in a grey belted overcoat, and Prince Harry led the way followed by Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall, while a well-wrapped up Princess Anne strode down the path with her husband Vice Admiral Tim Laurence and her son Peter, turning to urge her nieces Beatrice and Eugenie with her daugher-in-law Autumn to catch up.

The Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla soon followed while the Queen, as usual, arrived by car wearing a fur coat and headscarf. 0nce this brief service was over, the royal family went back to the House for breakfast.

By 10.00 am when the gates into the estate opened the largest crowd seen for many years poured into an area outside the church steps. So many people were keen to see the Queen and her family that more than 150 were at first turned away until extra room could be found to accommodate them.

By the time the royal party began to assemble at Sandringham House to return to the church for the main service two hours later the largest crowd seen at Sandringham for almost 20 years had gathered.

In the Duke of Edinburgh’s absence they were led this time by the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla in a blue coat and fur-trimmed black hat, with Kate, William and Harry walking immediately behind them.

It was the missing Duke who was in everyone’s thoughts, and during the service the Reverend Jonathan Riviere said ‘We pray for the Queen and the Royal Family especially today we pray for Prince Philip and his continued recovery.