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The Queen and the Middletons: how Kate's parents have been welcomed with open arms

queen and carole
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It's not every day we see the Queen taking on the role of chauffeur for the Middletons, but over the weekend Her Majesty happily obliged, driving the group around in her Range Rover. The sight of the monarch at the wheel, with Kate's mother Carole in the front passenger seat, is testament to how much the Middletons have been welcomed by the royal with open arms.

Over the years the Queen has invited Kate's family to intimate gatherings. Prince William, Kate, Prince George and Princess Charlotte have been enjoying the end of summer at Her Majesty's Scottish estate Balmoral, and this year the invitation was extended to Kate's parents Michael and Carole.

For the first time ever, the Middletons are believed to have been guests at the Queen's Balmoral Castle. Normally they would stay at Prince Charles' nearby Birkhall residence.

queen and carole2© Photo: Rex

The Queen was spotted driving Carole Middleton around Balmoral

"I think there is a genuine affection towards Kate andher family," said HELLO!'s royal correspondent Emily Nash. "Williamloves them and clearly wants them to be very much a part of his family lifewith George and Charlotte, and his grandmother clearly appreciates this."

The Queen and the Middletons share an undeniable love for the two very special youngsters – Prince George and Princess Charlotte. Carole and Michael are besotted with their grandchildren, while the Queen is always thrilled to welcome a new member to her growing family.

The invitation to Balmoral signals the growing bond between the two families. Apart from their familial ties, the royals and the Middletons have other common interests. Both parties are fans of outdoor pursuits, such as shooting, hunting and fishing. On Saturday the Queen and Carole were pictured driving back from a grouse shoot together.

queen and carole1© Photo: Rex

Carole and Michael are said to have stayed at Balmoral Castle for the first time

In 2010 Carole and Michael were also invited to shoot at Balmoral with Prince Charles, just weeks before William and Kate's engagement was announced. It was a sign that the two families were preparing to take on the roles of in-laws.

In 2014 the Middletons, including Kate's siblings James and Pippa, joined the royals on a pheasant shoot, this time down south at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

middletons5© Photo: Getty Images

The monarch has welcomed the Middletons with open arms

The two families also step out together to attend church, from time to time. On Sunday they attended a service at Crathie Kirk church near Balmoral; this time the Queen was spotted driving Kate.

On occasion, the whole Middleton clan have also been invited to attend the Christmas Day service at Sandringham. Earlier this year in January they were all pictured heading to church, with the Middletons arriving just before the royals.