ENTERTAINMENT

RICHARD KAY on the Queen's decision to downsize to a farmhouse in Sandringham with Prince Philip


Usually it's the most poignant departure, but there won't be such a wrench when the Queen leaves Balmoral later this month.

Your stay in Scotland was all too brief and devoid of many of the joys that make summer days at Royal Deeside so memorable.

She was unable to greet friends and family at the castle due to Covid restrictions and was also deprived of the unbridled joy of the Ghillies' ball, the culmination of her ten-week vacation where staff and kings let their hair fall for a while on the vigorous night Scottish dance.

By the time she and Prince Philip say goodbye late next week, they will hardly have spent more than half of their usual time north of the border.

But in a fascinating break with tradition – and as the Mail reported yesterday – the couple will head to Wood Farm, the spacious but modestly furnished house on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where they can lead the most humble of lives.

Usually it's the most poignant departure, but there won't be a wrench like this when the Queen (pictured in Balmoral with Prince Philip in 1975) leaves Balmoral later this month

They will be there for about a fortnight before Her Majesty returns to official life at Buckingham Palace.

The five bedroom farmhouse was often a hole away from the formalities of the palace routine. Until the pandemic, it had become Philip's main residence after his resignation from official royal duties in 2017.

He left the country in March to join the Queen in Windsor, where they spent four months with a reduced household nicknamed HMS Bubble. Their trip to Balmoral four months later marked the first time they had left Windsor since Easter.

Then how important is it that the Queen wants to round off her summer break with a stay in this particular place?

It is certainly true that Wood Farm is the only royal home where the queen feels like she can escape the pressures of monarchy and be in the limelight.

There are far fewer rituals that rule their lives: Philip made sure of that. The staff, for example, don't always have to wear regal paintwork – and it's the only residence where the queen is likely to be seen in the kitchen.

In a fascinating break with tradition - and as the Mail reported yesterday - the couple will head to Wood Farm (pictured), the spacious but modestly furnished house on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where they can lead the most humble life

In a fascinating break with tradition – and as the Mail reported yesterday – the couple will head to Wood Farm (pictured), the spacious but modestly furnished house on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where they can lead the most humble life

The attractions of the farmhouse are not only the home decor, but also the importance to the couple. The place is turning back the clock to the early years of their marriage and Malta. Philip was appointed naval officer there, and then Princess Elizabeth, a young mother to a little Prince Charles, worked for SSAFA, the armed forces charity.

There they simply lived in a sea-view villa, where the future queen was happiest in the gardens she helped create. She spoke with affection about the two years from 1949 to 1951 on the island and the only time in her life when she lived “normally”.

How poignant that after nearly 73 years of marriage they should repeat those early days.

One way or another, the royal couple has always been a partnership. Philip supported the Queen in moments of family crisis and strengthened her in moments of personal doubt. Far more than the children, he was their support or, as the Queen herself said on her 50th wedding anniversary, “my strength and my stay all these years”.

Due to Covid restrictions, she was unable to greet friends and family in the castle and was deprived of the unbridled joy of the ghillies ball. Pictured: Balmoral

Due to Covid restrictions, she was unable to greet friends and family in the castle and was deprived of the unbridled joy of the ghillies ball. Pictured: Balmoral

Without him at engagements, where she never really got over her shyness in meeting groups of strangers, it was always Philip who broke the ice. He was the charming, clever consort who paved the way for her at so many events.

Philip's job was to subtly take over whenever he recognized the signs and make sure everything went smoothly by making people laugh and therefore relaxing.

When he decided to spend his remaining years duty free three years ago, the Queen realized it was her turn to support him.

"She never stopped being grateful for how much he had to sacrifice, from the sudden end of his career in the Royal Navy to adapting to her consort," says a waiting lady. Interestingly, Philip never really bothered to step behind his wife as other men might do.

For many years he longed for a life where he could paint, read, work on his correspondence archive, and catch up with friends, while seldom invading the larger royal family.

He had long identified Wood Farm, where he and the Queen always spend a week around Halloween, as the perfect place. It's close enough to the ocean for an ex-sailor and Sandringham House, but also offers privacy and a feeling of escape.

However, there were some head scratches that Philip spent less time with the Queen in retirement than before. However, his wife firmly believed that he deserved the right to live his life the way he wanted to.

At first Philip found it even more worthwhile than he dared hope, especially since he was only responsible to himself. He also had a pastime: a truffle farm. After 12 years this labor of love finally bore fruit with a rich and plentiful harvest of valuable black truffles.

Never extravagant, thanks to a poor upbringing and belonging to the war generation, in which frugality should be admired, he quickly adapted. He still had servants like William Henderson, a housekeeper, and a cook.

It wasn't a lonely existence either. His most frequent visitor – outside of his immediate family (his son Prince Edward and grandson Peter Phillips are particularly close) – was the elegant Countess Mountbatten, former Lady Penny Romsey, who is more than 30 years his junior.

They were carriage riders for many years, and their presence at Wood Farm, where she looked after him, is said to make him happy.

But the Covid crisis changed everything. Philip joined the Queen in Windsor and so they have spent more time together in the last six months than they have since those early days in Malta.

Despite this closeness, they did not live in each other's pockets: the queen had her duties as sovereign to perform if Philip liked to be tight.

Still, Philip longed to return to Sandringham and his royal version of The Good Life. And the queen, a countrywoman at heart, wanted that too. She also likes the simple furnishings and open fire on the Wood Farm.

"People don't know how deep the bond is between man and woman, they have shared so much with one another," says the waiting lady.

Even so, there is something surprisingly touching about what some see as the late blooming of togetherness between two people we all think we know so well.

There is inevitably a great loss associated with old age, especially with close friends, which is why the couple seems more dependent on each other than ever.

It may have been anti-Covid measures that brought them back together, but it is mutual affection that turned them back over the years to stay together.

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