In trademark headscarf, the 96-year-old monarch, who has suffered mobility and other health problems for the past seven months, made a rare public appearance to the delight of an applauding crowd at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
She was all smiles, walking slowly but steadily with the aid of a stick, chatting amiably with family, friends and aides, and celebrating as one of her horses was named supreme champion in a category in the main arena.
Her public appearance at the horse show, which is held in the grounds of Windsor Castle and attracts thousands of equestrian fans over four days, has given a boost to courtiers hoping she will be well enough to attend her Jubilee events.
It was her first public appearance since Prince Philip’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey on March 29 and it came only days after she caused consternation by pulling out of attending the State Opening of Parliament, handing over one of her most important constitutional duties to Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge. Buckingham Palace blamed it on her “episodic” mobility problems.
Senior royal aides are hopeful that the Queen, who has lost weight and went to hospital in October for an unexplained medical condition, will be able to attend at least some of the main events over her jubilee weekend, including Trooping the Colour, the Derby at Epsom Downs, and a national service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.
But it will all depend how she feels on the day because of the discomfort she feels moving around sometimes.
She looked on top form yesterday, laughing and chatting to aides and horse show officials through a window for 50 minutes as she sat in a Range Rover and watched entrants in the parade ring including her horse Balmoral Leia, a five-year-old grey dun mare, which won in the Highland Class 64 event.
As the public held up camera phones, the Queen chatted for a long period with retired racehorse trainer Henrietta Knight, shared a joke with Colin Brooks, chairman of the show’s committee, and discussed the finer points of the competition with her head groom Terry Pendry.
Cathy Paige, an American tourist from Massachusetts, could not believe her luck to find herself a few feet from the Queen after joining a friend at the show.
She said: “I didn’t expect to see her. That was a wish, a dream, but never a possibility. I came along for the ride and got the ride of my life.”
“We were 10ft from Her Majesty, she was exactly as I expected, with perfectly quaffed hair – she was perfect. It was a moment I’ll never forget, I even made eye contact.”
The Queen was driven back to the castle but returned to join the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Prince Philip’s former carriage driving partner Penny Romsey – Countess Mountbatten – in the main arena for half an hour.
In a navy coat and grey skirt, she walked a few yards to a lift at the back of the royal box before walking with the aid of a stick to her seat between Prince Edward and Countess Mountbatten as the crowd applauded.
She was delighted when Balmoral Leia was declared the overall winner in the Horse & Hound Mountain and Moorland Supreme in Hand Championship and then watched as Edward and Sophie’s daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, drove her late grandfather’s carriage at the head of a parade marking the centenary of the Fell Pony Society.
The Queen, who is expected to preside over a family reunion and attempt to mend broken relationships when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex return to Britain with their children, Archie, three, and 11-month-old Lilibet, for the central Jubilee weekend in three weeks’ time, will be toasted at tens of thousands of street parties and other events across the country during the double bank holiday weekend from June 2 to 5.
Ministers announced yesterday that more than 70,000 Big Jubilee Lunches are planned in the four UK nations over the weekend, with an expected 10 million people set to sit down with their neighbours on Sunday June 5 to celebrate Her Majesty’s record-breaking reign.
Big screens will be set up outdoors in London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff so thousands of people can come together to watch the main events next month.
In a further move to mark the occasion, the BBC is offering local communities a special one-off TV Licence dispensation so they can use a big screen to show the events.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “No other British monarch has reached this milestone and we will celebrate it with tradition, pomp and circumstance.”
“I hope that people and communities across the country will come together to pay tribute to Her Majesty – whether that be to watch on big screens or toasting Her Majesty at a Big Jubilee Lunch with their neighbours or coming together in their local village hall.”
Her department is launching an activity pack today for children to help them learn about the Queen’s reign. It includes articles about how the country has changed in the last seven decades, opportunities to colour in a corgi or crown, and bunting to decorate for street parties.