British royals miss Prince Philip at Christmas

25th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, missed the royal family's Christmas Day festivities for the first time on Sunday as he remained in hospital after heart surgery.

Thousands of wellwishers gathered at the queen's Sandringham estate in eastern England as the royals attended their traditional church service, with Prince William's new wife Catherine making her debut appearance.

Speaking to the crowd after the service at St Mary Magdalene Church on the sprawling royal estate, William said his 90-year-old grandfather was "very well, thank you. Getting much better".

Prince Charles, who is William's father and the heir to the British throne, added that Philip was "very well".

Buckingham Palace said that Prince Philip "remains in good spirits" after spending a second night at Papworth hospital near Cambridge and that family members were set to visit him after lunch.

Television channels reported that his grandchildren, including Prince William and his younger brother Prince Harry, would be visiting, a day after the queen and her four children went to Philip's bedside.

Prince Philip, who is the longest serving royal consort in British history and an outspoken pillar of the House of Windsor, was airlifted on Friday from Sandringham suffering from chest pains.

Tests showed a blocked coronary artery and doctors at Papworth, which boasts Britain's leading cardiac unit, inserted a tube-like device called a stent to restore healthy blood flow.

Around 3,000 people queued at the gates of the church on Sunday to see the queen and other royals walk the few hundred metres (yards) from the main house for the service, police said.

During the service, the rector of Sandringham, Jonathan Riviere said: "We pray for the queen and the royal family, especially today we pray for Prince Philip and his continued recovery."

It was the first time that Catherine, 29, had attended the service. She wore a brown coat and walked alongside Prince William, also 29, whom she married in April, and Prince Harry.

Also present were the queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and her husband, England rugby player Mike Tindall, who also married this year.

Lunch was served at 1300 GMT at Sandringham House following the church service and the family reportedly tucked into a huge turkey reared on the estate.

The family were then to gather around the television -- without the queen -- to watch her annual Christmas broadcast, in which this year she is set to stress the importance of family.

It was recorded before Prince Philip was hospitalised.

The Christmas church service is believed to be the first Prince Philip has not attended, and he is also set to miss the traditional Boxing Day shoot on Monday which he normally organises.

The Greek-born Philip married then Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and has become a national institution -- almost as much for his often brusque comments as for his support for the queen.

An active outdoorsman and former Royal Navy captain, he has been in largely good health and joined his wife on an 11-day tour of Australia three months ago.

But he pulled out of a trip to Italy in October nursing a cold.

The next year is a big one for the queen as she celebrates her diamond jubilee marking 60 years on the British throne.

In an interview to mark his 90th birthday in June, Prince Philip said he would scale back his workload.

"I reckon I've done my bit. I want to enjoy myself a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say," he told the BBC.

Thinking of things to say has sometimes landed him in hot water.

On a visit to China in 1986, he warned a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."

© 2011 AFP

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