On Christmas Day, the Royal Family made their traditional walk to St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham for the morning service. It is a much-publicised event and hundreds of well-wishers arrived early to catch a glimpse of the Windsor family.
In the run-up to Christmas, it had been widely rumoured that Prince Andrew would be barred from attending.
Royal courtiers feared it would be too ‘exposing’ after his ‘car crash’ Newsnight interview over his friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
As it transpired, the Duke of York, walked side by side with Charles to a private service at 9am but did not attend the 11am service.
Instead, Andrew reportedly remained at Sandringham House to spend time with the Duke of Edinburgh, which was said to be the Duke of York’s personal decision.
However, it highlights the pressure being placed upon the royal family - and no where will this strain be felt more keenly than by the duke’s mother.
The favourite child?
The Queen’s enduring devotion to Andrew can perhaps be explained by the circumstances of his birth. Britain was shocked when the Queen announced her pregnancy with her third child in 1959. It was a full decade after the birth of her last child, Princess Anne and the news came amid rumours that all was not well in the marriage of the Queen and Prince Philip. The Palace denied this but Royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell believes the royal couple had gone through ‘a rough spell’. Andrew’s birth ‘showed the Queen and Philip were back on an even keel’.
Many believe the special relationship began there because the Queen always associated Andrew with the re-blossoming of her marriage and a happy time in her life.
Andrew was named after Philip’s father Prince Andrew of Greece but quickly became known as ‘the love child’. He was the first child to be born to a reigning monarch since 1857 and immediately leapt over sister Anne to be second in line to the throne.
Andrew’s childhood was marked by a unique level of affection from the Queen. Initially she kept his upbringing shrouded in secrecy. All the Palace would reveal was he had “blue eyes and doesn’t cry much”. Aged 16 months he was finally seen in public in his mother’s arms at the Trooping the Colour ceremony.
Unlike with Charles and Anne, the Queen had more time to teach Andrew the alphabet and how to tell the time. She would also read him bedtime stories. His outward-going persona developed early as he learned to ride aged two, was taught to swim by his father and was even given ballroom dancing lessons.
However, there are suggestions the Queen over-indulged the young prince. He became a practical joker, pouring bubble bath into the Palace swimming pool, breaking a greenhouse window with a football and even tying a guard sentry’s shoelaces together. Growing up, Palace staff found him a handful. But the Queen thought he was adorable.
The 1982 Falklands War saw Andrew serve as a helicopter pilot aboard HMS Invincible, flying missions that frequently brought him into danger.
‘It was a terrible time for the Queen and she was so delighted when he came back unscathed’ says royal expert, Andrew Morton. To this day the Queen carries a picture of Prince Andrew returning from the war in her handbag wherever she goes.
After Andrew’s failed marriage to Sarah Ferguson, the Queen again took his side, this time against Prince Philip who was angry the couple kept living together for some years after they divorced.
And now, even facing claims he had sex with a 17-year old girl - allegations Prince Andrew strenuously denies - the Queen remains unwaveringly loyal. She may have taken the drastic step of relieving him of royal duties but Andrew Morton believes she won't entertain the allegations against him for a second.
‘With the Epstein scandal, she - and the rest of the royal family - will take him at his word. They will believe he had no idea about Epstein’s true sick personality and his only mistake was to associate with him after he came out of prison.’
Just as she supported Prince Charles over his friendship with Jimmy Savile, the Queen believes Andrew was taken in by Epstein and is guilty of nothing worse than misplaced loyalty. She has always been so close to Andrew that in her eyes he can do no wrong. She will always stand by her favourite son.