The crowd began gathering in the darkness well before dawn.
And more than 30 people were waiting outside St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, by 6.00am.
Two hours later several hundred, many carrying bouquets and posies, had turned up, most explaining that they had come to see the newest star of the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge, as she arrived for the 11.00am Christmas church service.
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So these early arrivals were surprised to see the Queen’s children and grandchildren, walking down the path from Sandringham House to the church at around 9am.
Some mistakenly thought the time of the service had been put forward but the royal family were simply on their way to a private communion service.
0nce this brief service was over, the royals went back to the house for breakfast.
By 10.00am, when the gates into the estate opened, the crowds poured into an area outside the church steps.
So many people were keen to see the Queen and her family that more than 150 were at first turned away until extra room could be found to accommodate them.
By the time the royal party began to assemble to return to the church for the main service two hours later the largest crowd seen at Sandringham for almost 20 years had gathered.
In the Duke of Edinburgh’s absence they were led this time by the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla in a blue coat and fur-trimmed black hat, with Kate, William and Harry walking immediately behind them.
For her first family Christmas with her royal in-laws, Kate looked glowing with happiness as she strode beside her husband wearing a burgundy overcoat by an unknown English designer with a matching velvet hat tipped jauntily over her forehead.
The Queen wearing palest lilac, returned to the church by car, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex, while her husband Edward, Earl of Wessex strolled to the church with his cousins.
But it was the missing Duke who was in everyone’s thoughts, and during the service the Reverend Jonathan Riviere said “We pray for the Queen and the Royal Family especially today we pray for Prince Philip and his continued recovery.”
As the service ended the royal family poured out of the church to greet the well-wishers who had waited so long in the cold.
And long after the rest of the family had walked back to Sandringham House, William and Kate were still on a walkabout chatting to dozens of happy well-wishers and collecting flowers.