Ailing Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday made her first major public appearance in months, at a thanksgiving service for her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99.
The monarch, who turns 96 next month, appeared emotional at times during the service at Westminster Abbey. But questions arose after she was accompanied by her second son, Prince Andrew.
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PRINCE ANDREW ACCOMPANIES QUEEN ELIZABETH
It was Andrew’s first public appearance since settling a US civil claim for sexual assault and after public outrage at his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Royal commentators said it was unsurprising that the 62-year-old Duke of York should be at his father’s memorial service, but many questioned the extent of his involvement.
For the BBC’s former royal correspondent Peter Hunt, it was an “active choice” and a reminder that Andrew had not admitted any liability in the high-profile case.
“She’s very clearly stating that he has a role at family occasions,” he added.
PRINCE ANDREW PROVIDES A STEADY ARM FOR QUEEN ELIZABETH
Andrew has rarely been seen since a disastrous 2019 interview in which he provoked fury by defending his friendship with Epstein, a financier who killed himself in prison.
Earlier this year, as Andrew’s accuser Virginia Giuffre pursued him in a New York court, the queen stripped him of his honorary military titles, effectively removing him from any official role.
But on Tuesday he accompanied his mother from her Windsor Castle home west of London, providing a steadying arm for her as she walked with the help of a stick to her seat in the abbey.
He rejoined her afterwards, helping her into the royal limousine for the 25-mile (41-kilometre) return journey from central London.
QUEEN ELIZABETH CONFIRMED HER ATTENDANCE HOURS BEFORE THE SERVICE
The queen, currently in her record-breaking 70th year on the throne, has not attended a high-profile event outside her homes since she spent a night in hospital last October.
Ill health, including a bout of Covid, and difficulties walking and standing forced her to pull out of a Commonwealth Day service at the last minute on 14 March.
Buckingham Palace only confirmed her attendance at Philip’s memorial service around two hours before it was due to start at Westminster Abbey.
Unlike other family members and guests, she arrived by a side entrance, taking up her cushioned seat in the front row, alongside her eldest son and heir Prince Charles, 73.
The large congregation of 1 800 was a stark contrast to the stripped-back funeral service for the Duke of Edinburgh last April, where just 30 mourners were allowed due to coronavirus restrictions.
The sight of the queen alone at that service has become an enduring image of the pandemic. Tuesday’s event included elements of Philip’s original funeral plans that had to be hastily revised.
Much of the focus was on the straight-talking former naval officer’s charity work, particularly his Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme for young people around the world.
The couple were married for 73 years.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S ILL HEALTH
After the October scare, doctors ordered the queen to rest and she cancelled a string of high-profile engagements, including hosting world leaders at the UN climate change summit in November.
She has held private audiences from her Windsor Castle home, mostly by videoconference.
On 5 February she met some members of the public at her Sandringham estate in eastern England, a day before the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
She has complained of mobility issues, with reports she has been using a wheelchair – and even a golf buggy – in private. Speculation has also been rife that she could soon spend more time at her Balmoral estate in Scotland, after claims that a stairlift has been installed.
One notable absentee on Tuesday was Prince Harry, the queen’s grandson, who is currently locked in a legal battle with the UK government over his security arrangements.
While shunning Britain, Harry has attracted criticism by confirming he will attend his Invictus Games event for wounded veterans in the Netherlands next month.
© Agence France-Presse/Phil Hazlewood