The Queen has used her 95th birthday—her first without Prince Philip by her side—as an opportunity to thank the nation for its support following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. In a rare personal message the monarch, who does not officially celebrate her actual birthday until June, released a deeply personal note of thanks from Windsor Castle, where she is in mourning.
“I have, on the occasion of my 95th birthday today, received many messages of good wishes, which I very much appreciate,” she wrote in the statement. “While as a family we are in a period of great sadness, it has been a comfort to us all to see and to hear the tributes paid to my husband, from those within the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and around the world. My family and I would like to thank you all for the support and kindness shown to us in recent days. We have been deeply touched, and continue to be reminded that Philip had such an extraordinary impact on countless people throughout his life.”
Signed ELIZABETH R., it is the Queen’s first public message since the announcement following the death of Prince Philip at the age of 99.
Aides said that the Queen would not be celebrating her birthday on Wednesday, as she is still in mourning, and that the day would be “low key.” The birthday was marked with the release of an old photograph of the Queen out and about on a royal engagement on the Royal Family’s social media pages. Usually there is a 21-gun salute in London, but not this year.
The Queen celebrates her official birthday in June with Trooping the Colour, which is expected, like last year, to be held in a scaled-down fashion at Windsor Castle. “The Queen’s actual birthday is always low key,” a source tells Vanity Fair. “She will hope to see some of her family if she can and she’ll be more than happy to just have a walk with her dogs. This is a day for quiet reflection not celebration particularly this year.”
It is expected that the Queen will be visited by her son Prince Edward and daughter in law Sophie along with their children Lady Louise and Viscount James, who live close to Windsor. Prince Andrew was also expected to stop in and see his mother. Prince Charles is reported to be in Wales while the mourning period continues, with sources saying that his father’s death has hit him “very hard.”
Despite speculation that Prince Harry was planning to stay for the Queen’s birthday, Vanity Fair can confirm that the Duke is now safely back in California, having left the United Kingdom on Tuesday. It is understood that he enjoyed two meetings with his grandmother during his brief visit to the UK when he was staying at Frogmore House. Harry also agreed to a meeting with his father Prince Charles and bother Prince William after Saturday’s funeral, said by one source to be “the first step” in their ongoing rift. The Queen had asked the brothers to put their differences aside, and it is hoped that their joint appearance is the start of a reconciliation between them.
While the Queen was at Windsor on Wednesday, Prince William and Kate visited an air cadet base in East London in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh. Although the Queen has asked all members of the royal family to respect the official period of mourning, which comes to a close tomorrow, she was happy for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were both dressed in dark outfits, to visit the cadets at 282 (East Ham) Squadron, Air Training Corps. Prince Philip was Honorary Air Commodore-in-Chief of the squadron for 63 years before handing it over to his granddaughter in law Kate, who succeeded the title of Honorary Air Commandant in 2015.
The 282 (East Ham) Squadron supports over 60 cadets to gain skills and qualifications across a variety of different disciplines from aviation, cyber and radio communications to adventure training, music, First Aid and air experience flying, gliding and a space syllabus. The Squadron has also taken part in a number of international trips to undertake projects such as refurbishing schools, rainforest conservation and teaching English classes.
During the visit to 282 Squadron, the Duke and Duchess met cadets taking part in field craft exercises and leadership tasks, before speaking to a number of the young people who are preparing for their Duke of Edinburgh Awards. The Duchess gamely sat in a flight simulator.
Each year, the Air Cadets receives approximately 3,000 Duke of Edinburgh Awards across the program’s Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, amounting to over 193,000 Awards since it began in 1956.
Their Royal Highnesses also heard more about the Air Cadets’ Pre-Duke of Edinburgh’s Award “Blue Badge” scheme, which is aimed at cadets aged 12-14 years old, and allows them to begin to develop their skills and engage in activities before they are of age to take part in the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels.
Kate and William also spoke with a group of serving RAF officers who were all previously cadets and heard more about how taking part in the Air Cadets and its core activities, including The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, allowed them to gain important life and social skills which they have taken forward into their careers. Many cadets go on to carry out roles in the Royal Air Force and other services, and around 40% of officers and 50% of all aircrew currently serving in the RAF are ex-cadets.
At the end of the visit, the Squadron took part in a Three Cheers Salute in honour of The Duke of Edinburgh. Philip was a talented pilot and gained his Royal Air Force wings in 1953. Throughout his patronage His Royal Highness frequently met with cadets and took a keen interest in their activities and achievements. In 1962, to mark the 21st anniversary of the Air Training Corps, The Duke presented the Corps with its own Banner during a service and parade at St Clement Danes.
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