Just yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II hosted her legendary Buckingham Palace Christmas lunch party for those members of her close and extended family who are not invited to Sandringham, her country home, on Christmas Day itself.
She was said to be in fine fettle as she welcomed some 50 guests, including Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who are spending the big day with their maternal grandparents, the Middletons, this year.
But on Wednesday, the palace found itself being forced to brief reporters off the record that there were no “grave concerns” over the health of Queen Elizabeth, 90, or her husband, Prince Philip, 95, as an information vacuum opened up after the royal couple dramatically abandoned plans to travel by train to her country home 100 miles north of London.
With just half an hour’s notice, they failed to show up for their annual train ride on the 10:44 to King’s Lynn, a town close to Sandringham.
It took over three hours for the palace to get an official statement out, which read: “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh have heavy colds, and so have decided not to travel to Sandringham today.”
The panicky response to what some would say is the most inevitable of British news events was exacerbated by the chaotic way the news of the queen and Philip’s ill-health was managed.
Photographers waiting to snap the queen and her husband at the railway station—in recent years, Her Majesty has made a point of traveling to Sandringham on a regular passenger service (in a roped-off first-class carriage) rather than using the royal train—were abruptly told, “It’s not happening now,” just 30 minutes before the service to King’s Lynn was due to depart.
The death of the queen is, understandably, one of the great British obsessions, and newsrooms around the U.K. will remain on high alert over the festive period, despite Buckingham Palace’s attempt to calm the waters, with sources saying they will still travel to Sandringham before Christmas Day.
The queen and Prince Philip maintain an astonishing schedule despite their advancing years but have battled the ravages of age: Philip was taken ill with a heart attack at Sandringham over Christmas 2011, and had to be rushed to hospital to have a stent fitted.