Queen carries on for Philip despite mobility issues

The monarch, 95, was intent on being present for the duke’s thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey.

29 March 2022

It was a show of determination from a frail Queen in honour of her beloved husband as the monarch made her first major official engagement outside of a royal residence for nearly six months.

Much has changed since the monarch opened the Welsh Senedd in the autumn, using a stick but walking fairly briskly from her car.

At the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh on Tuesday, the Queen, now just three weeks away from her 96th birthday, moved gingerly, holding onto the Duke of York’s elbow for support and making greater use of her stick.

Memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen relies on the Duke of York’s support as she moves through the Abbey (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA)

The mother and son walked at a slow but steady pace, both looking ahead, and at the end of the aisle they separated – with the Queen giving a smile to her controversial offspring – and Andrew giving a last glance to his mother as she turned right.

As the service began, the Prince of Wales leaned over to the Queen and spoke to her briefly.

With the Queen surrounded by her family, the service – packed with hundreds of people – stood in stark contrast to Philip’s pared back funeral in the age of a pandemic when the monarch sat alone in a mask in mourning.

Memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen with her family and guests (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

During the first song – He Who Would Valiant Be – the Queen delved into her black Launer handbag for her glasses, rooting around in several sections before finally locating them.

Despite her mobility issues, the nation’s longest reigning head of state – who has openly admitted having difficulty moving – stood throughout each hymn.

She was sombre in thought as she listened intently to the Dean of Windsor’s touching tribute to “remarkable” Philip, as he hailed his sense of humour and “great sympathy and kindness”, and acknowledged his tendency to be abrupt and forget “just how intimidating he could be”.

Memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen stood to sing each hymn (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

During a Bible reading by Dame Sarah Mullally, Dean of the Chapels Royal, the Queen was seen blowing her nose into a tissue.

Ever practical, during the final hymn – Bread Of Heaven, as requested by Philip as a congregational song for his funeral but forbidden due to Covid – the monarch packed away her glasses in her bag ready to depart.

She appeared moved, blinking several times, as the abbey mightily joined in singing the national anthem in her honour.

Memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen seated in the Canada chair (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA)

There was a flash of a broad smile for Doyin Sonibare -the DofE Gold Award Holder who read her own tribute – with the Queen personally thanking her afterwards for her gesture as she left, once again escorted by Andrew.

So set was the Queen on attending in remembrance of Philip that special arrangements were put in place for her comfort, with the service limited to 40 minutes and the monarch sitting in one of the Canada chairs but with an additional cushion.

The monarch entered through the back of the Abbey via Poets’ Corner – a shorter route to her place in the Lantern, rather than her traditional procession from the Great West Door down the length of the church, now firmly consigned to the past.

Cameras were kept at a distance throughout the event.

The difficulty for the Queen, who has confessed to not being able to move, was understood to be whether the monarch would be able to walk the 30 metres or so to her seat.

Confirmation she would be present came only two hours or so before the service began, with the Queen taking the decision in the morning that she would be able to manage the official engagement.

She pulled out of attending the Commonwealth Day service at the abbey earlier this month, and also faced a bout of Covid in February, but has since recovered.

Ceremonial opening of the Sixth Senedd
The Queen in Cardiff at her last public engagement outside of a royal residence nearly six months ago (Jacob King/PA)

Many of her light duties are now carried out by video calls, and Queen said during a recent in-person audience: “Well, as you can see, I can’t move.”

The monarch has only attended one other major event with the public since concerns were raised about her health in October when she spent a night in hospital undergoing tests and she was put on doctors’ orders to rest.

Seven weeks ago, on February 5, on the eve of her Platinum Jubilee, she hosted a reception at her private Norfolk residence, Sandringham House, for local charity workers, former estate staff and fellow Women’s Institute members.

Questions remain as to how and when she might appear during the busy jubilee weekend – a four-day extravaganza with a pop concert, church service, pageant and Trooping the Colour in June.

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