“Are those flowers for me?” he asked and started to approach.
“Yes, they are,” we prompted our suddenly mute daughter. “Tell him ‘Merry Christmas’.”
“Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed loudly as she pushed the flowers further out towards the walkway.
“They’re lovely flowers,” he said warmly as he accepted them. And then he proceeded to ask my daughter how she was, mention the weather, and then wished us all a Happy New Year as he walked away.
Just a casual conversation on a Sunday morning with the future king of England.
That was the first Sunday after Christmas, December 28th of 2014, when we spoke with Prince Charles as he left St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham after the morning service. We had chosen not to join the huge crowds that gather outside the church on Christmas Day—it just didn’t seem fair to make the kids miss Christmas morning to stand in the cold and gawk at well-dressed strangers leaving church. But the Sunday after Christmas seemed like a good idea.
I’d scoured the internet for information on seeing the Queen at Sandringham and didn’t find much. But my favorite local blogger, Kim, over at American to Britain has an excellent post with tips for seeing the Royals at Christmas.
We decided to attempt to get there before the service started at 11 so we would have two opportunities to see the Royal Family. Running late as always, it was 10:50 as we parked the car. We hurriedly rushed from the muddy parking area. I was pushing ahead with the kids in the stroller while my husband and his mom were a few steps behind. I glanced at the street and began to cross and then jumped back onto the curb as a car rounded the corner. A Bentley strode passed and as we glanced up we saw the Queen inside.
After nearly getting hit by the Queen’s Bentley, we cautiously crossed the road and headed towards the church. People began to exit en masse. The Queen is the last to arrive and the first to leave. The rest of the Royal Family walks the short distance from their estate to the church. While the service is underway, the crowds disperse and get coffee across the street at the restaurant and cafe.
Not wanting to miss our only remaining opportunity to see the Queen, we made our way to the path between the estate and the church and reserved a spot right up front. Children ran through the open grassy area and my kids were quickly covered in mud but happily playing. The church service is broadcast over loudspeakers so we sang along to the familiar carols and caught pieces of the sermon. A family next to us was kind enough to give us their service program which was handed out to people nearer the church entrance before the service started.
The service ended just before 12 o’clock. A few hundred people were now crowding along the path the Royal Family would take back to the estate, while some others stayed nearer to the church along the street where the Queen would depart in her Bentley. Knowing the Queen wasn’t accepting flowers, we chose to take our chances giving the flowers to another member of the Royal Family.
Other onlookers had already informed us that the Princes William and Harry were not in attendance that day, so we waited to see who would exit after the Queen.
Prince Philip and Prince Charles exited the church next. They slowly meandered down the path, smiling as they quietly conversed with onlookers standing along the path. Prince Philip commented about someone’s dog and spoke to a child. Prince Charles laughed as he engaged with another group. And then they approached us. Not sure we’d have an opportunity to give our flowers to anyone else, my daughter shoved the flowers out towards the walkway as Prince Charles approached. And that’s when the above conversation occurred.
Pictures were not allowed, but the paparazzi got some great shots from afar that I’ve embeded throughout the post. The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, actually stopped in her tracks to correct me for saying ‘Merry Christmas’ since Christmas had already passed and then wished us a Happy New Year instead.
Fast-forward to today, the Sunday after Christmas a year later, December 27, 2015. This time, we didn’t even attempt to arrive before ten. We got to the church around 11:15 and had to wait for a very thorough pat-down and bag check from the friendliest police officers I’ve ever met. They even patted down all three kids and checked their pockets. It was one of the most thorough, and oddly nicest, security check points I’ve ever encountered.
We quickly learned that almost the entire family was in attendance this time. The commonly held belief was that if the Sunday after Christmas is 1-2 days past Christmas than the entire family will still be in attendance. And sure enough, Prince William, Princess Kate, and Prince Harry were all there.
We completely forgot to bring flowers this time and it was a mistake. A light drizzle was falling as the service ended and the Royal Family walked quickly down the path. They only stopped for the few people handing them flowers. My adorable littlest who was squawking away in my arms managed to get a smile from Princess Kate, but no one stopped to engage anyone in the crowd around us. Still, they were less than two feet in front of us as they walked by. Pretty cool.
So what are my tips for seeing the Royal Family at Sandringham with kids?
- Go the Sunday after Christmas. Instead of battling a crowd with a thousand people on Christmas Day, it’s typically just a few 100 (or less) the following Sunday.
- Don’t arrive early. As long as you’re there by 11:15 you can still get a front row spot on the path to see them exit the church and you’ll only be standing in the cold for 45 minutes or less.
- The Royal Family are more likely to engage with people with young children or dogs. Yes, dogs. Lots of people bring their dogs and they seem to be a great conversation piece with the Royals.
- Do bring a small bouquet of flowers. That’s the best way to guarantee some sort of interaction with the Family.
- If you really want to see William/Kate/Harry, go on Christmas Day. Otherwise, be prepared to only see the Queen and a few others.
- Wear rain boots. Both years it has been muddy in the parking area and in the field you walk through to stand at the path.
- Talk to the people around you. One of the highlights of both our visits was the great conversations with the families around us. They are friendly and a wealth of information. Today, the lady next to us identified each family member for us. I would have never known who Lady Louise Windsor was or her relationship to the Queen if not for her.
- Read Kim’s post at Royal Family at Sandringham for Christmas. It’s so good I’ve just linked to it twice.
Have you visited Sandringham at Christmastime to see the Royal Family? I’d love to hear your stories and advice!