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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 13:38 GMT
Royals attend Christmas service
The Queen (centre)
The Queen did not use a walking stick
The Queen and other members of the Royal Family delighted waiting crowds as they arrived for their traditional Christmas morning church service at Sandringham, in Norfolk.

There was speculation the Queen would use a walking stick for the occasion after straining a knee ligament during a visit to Newmarket on Friday.

But she walked unaided and was joined by members of her immediate family who walked the short journey from Sandringham house. Prince Charles's companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, did not attend.

QUEEN'S SPEECH VIEWING FIGURES
1987: 28m
2000: 9.8m
2001: 8.7m
After the service, Prince William was surprised when a female spectator ducked under a rope holding back the crowd and hugged him.

Marlene Ponce, 42, gave the prince a block of chocolate and a card saying "We love you" before being led back behind the rope by police.

The Queen's Speech will be broadcast at 1500 GMT on Christmas Day, with the royals hoping it will attract more attention than last year's, when audiences were two thirds lower than in the 1980s.

Sad day

The Queen made the short journey to St Mary Magdalene Church on the royal estate in her Rolls Royce, joined by Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

She wore a deep pink coat and matching hat with a black fur trim and appeared to be walking with a slight limp.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex led a procession of other royals towards the church, including Princes William and Harry.

About 200 people lined the route to greet the royal family ahead of the one-hour-long service.

It will be a sad day for the monarch as she celebrates Christmas for the first time without her mother and sister, who died earlier this year within seven weeks of each other.

Sober occasions

On Monday, in an unprecedented move, Buckingham Palace gave a sneak preview of the Queen's Christmas Day message in which she reflects on "a momentous and rollercoaster year".

Members of the royal family
Other royals walked to church
In the pre-recorded speech, to be shown at 1500 GMT, she says: "As I look back over these past 12 months, I know that it has been about as full a year as I can remember."

Viewers will see a montage of footage including scenes from the Golden Jubilee weekend and more sober occasions including the Bali memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral.

Royal deaths

Speaking from the White Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace, with photographs of the Queen Mother, King George VI and Princess Margaret beside her, the Queen will focus on the sadness and joy of 2002.

She will be wearing a rock crystal and hand-painted brooch set with 100 diamonds, which she had given her late mother as a 100th birthday present.

The Queen is expected to acknowledge the public support she received during the Golden Jubilee, which marked 50 years on the throne.

She will also reflect on the deaths of her sister, Princess Margaret, and her mother.

'Important message'

The decision to break with tradition and screen previews of the speech is a bid to boost its ratings.

In 1987, the address attracted an audience of 28 million.

Sharon Osbourne
Sharon Osbourne will deliver an "alternative Christmas message"
By 2000 it had slumped to 9.8m, and last year just 8.7m viewers tuned in.

Former Royal press officer Dickie Arbiter said it was an "important message" to the nation.

He said: "They are her thoughts, in her words, without any outside interference.

"At the end of the day it is a programme, listed in the television magazines and newspaper - therefore why shouldn't it be trailed like other programmes?"

It will face competition from an "alternative Christmas message" from the wife of British rock star Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon, to be shown on Channel 4 at the same time.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"Crowds came to support the Queen as they have done all year"
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