Queen makes first public outing of the year after COVID lockdown rules ease

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5 min read

Watch: Queen makes first public appearance of 2021

The Queen has made her first in-person engagement of the year, following the easing of lockdown rules in England and amid fallout related to both of her granddaughters-in-law.

The Queen, 94, marked the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force at the CWGC Air Forces Memorial, in Runnymede, Surrey, on Wednesday morning, her first engagement outside Windsor Castle walls this year.

It came as the Duchess of Cambridge was pulled back into a row over her attendance at a vigil for Sarah Everard, after the Metropolitan Police commissioner claimed the duchess was "working" when she visited, despite no record of the visit appearing on the Palace's court circular.

The Queen attended a service to mark the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force. (Royal Family)
The Queen attended a service to mark the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force. (Buckingham Palace)

And the Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed claims by the Duchess of Sussex that she and her husband, Prince Harry were "married" in their back garden days before the royal wedding.

It's previously been confirmed that the day she was referring to was an informal exchange of vows, but Justin Welby has now also responded to the remark made in the interview, saying the legal wedding was in Windsor, on 19 May 2018.

Lockdown rules were eased on Monday in England, allowing groups of six or two households to meet outside.

Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the CWGC Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede, Surrey, to attend a service to mark the Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force. Picture date: Wednesday March 31, 2021.
Queen Elizabeth II at the CWGC Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede. (PA Images)
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On her arrival at the Runnymede event, she said: "It's a rather nice day. It's been a long time since I've been here."

The Queen attended a service to mark the anniversary and her equerry laid a wreath, which she stood and touched before he placed it at the memorial.

The message on the wreath read: "In memory of the glorious dead, Elizabeth R." 

Her Majesty wore a lime green and ivory dress and jacket by Angela Kelly with matching hat with black gloves. She also had on the Australian wattle brooch presented to her during her 1954 tour of Australia.

The visit falls under work guidelines rather than social guidelines.

In a lighter moment, she spoke to one Australian serviceman about his work with Typhoon jets and asked if they were "being sent off to chase the Russians?" and was told "That’s correct, ma’am, it’s a lot of fun for us!"

She viewed panels bearing the names of Australian war dead and a display of fallen airmen and women in the memorial cloister, and met some serving RAAF personnel. The Queen signed a commemorative document before she left.

Queen Elizabeth II inspects a wreath before it was laid by her equerry for her. (PA Images)
Queen Elizabeth II inspects a wreath before it was laid by her equerry for her. (PA Images)
Queen Elizabeth II sits for a service to mark the Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force at the CWGC Air Forces Memorial in Runnymede, Surrey. Picture date: Wednesday March 31, 2021.
The Queen bowed her head at one moment of the service, which marked the centenary of the RAAF. (PA Images)

She also sent a message which read: "I am delighted to send my best wishes and congratulations to the Royal Australian Air Force on the occasion of your centenary.

"As one of the oldest Air Forces in the world, it is fitting to pay tribute to the efficiency, skill and sacrifice of the men and women who have served in its ranks, in Australia and overseas during the past one hundred years.

"Throughout my reign, the Royal Australian Air Force has shown immense dedication to duty and has defended our freedom in many conflicts around the world.

"On this notable anniversary may the honour and glory bestowed upon the Royal Australian Air Force by all ranks guide its future guardianship of the skies."

EGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to The Royal Australian Air Force Memorial on March 31, 2021 near Egham, England. (Photo by Steve Reigate - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Queen wore a lime green and ivory Angela Kelly outfit. (Steve Reigate - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Queen was told she had a gift to follow, being told she would be sent two RAAF dog jackets for her two new corgis when they have been made.

"That’s very kind," she said. "I look forward to it."

She spoke to Australia’s High Commissioner, George Brandis before she left, about the number of Australians stuck in Britain during the pandemic.

Hearing about efforts to get them back, she said: "There are worse places to be stuck."

He also spoke to the Queen about the fact that it was her first public engagement of the year and she replied: “I’m delighted to be here.”

The Queen made her first visit outside the castle of the year. (PA Images)
The Queen made her first visit outside the castle of the year. (PA Images)
The Queen looked at the names of Australian war dead during her visit on Wednesday. (Buckingham Palace)
The Queen looked at the names of Australian war dead during her visit on Wednesday. (Buckingham Palace)

The Queen, who turns 95 in April, opened the CWGC Air Forces Memorial in 1953. 

She is head of state in Australia, a Commonwealth Realm, and made many visits to the nation when she was still travelling abroad. 

The Queen was last outside Windsor Castle in November when she travelled to London to mark Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph. 

Before that, she and her grandson Prince William visited Porton Down. 

William, 38, will also mark the centenary on Wednesday, with a video message to be released later in the day.

Although the Queen has not made an in-person engagement since a special event held for key workers in Windsor at the castle before Christmas, she has had a busy 2021.

She took part in a televised service for Commonwealth Day, after the service had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, recording her annual speech.

The Queen wore black gloves but she didn't wear a mask during the outdoor visit. (PA Images)
The Queen wore black gloves but she didn't wear a mask during the outdoor visit. (PA Images)

Her husband Prince Philip spent four weeks in hospital being treated first for an infection and then for a pre-existing heart condition but is now back at Windsor Castle, where they have lived for the best part of a year. 

But the Queen will have been spending much of her time considering the fallout from the interview with Oprah Winfrey that her grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan did on 7 March.

She released a brief statement after the interview in which she said the family would deal with the matters raised privately. 

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