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Prince Philip: The Queen returns to official duties four days after her husband’s death

The Queen returned to royal duties on Tuesday, just four days after the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The 94-year-old monarch returned to mark the retirement of her household’s most senior official, the former Lord Chamberlain Earl Peel.

Her return to work comes as preparations are under way for Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle on Saturday.

The royal family and their households are observing two weeks of royal mourning, with members of the family “continuing to undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances,” an official said.

Earl Peel had overseen arrangements for the duke’s funeral – known as Operation Forth Bridge – before handing responsibility to his successor.

In overall charge is former MI5 spy chief Baron Parker, who took up his new role on April 1, following Earl Peel’s retirement after more than 14 years in the post.

The courtier had initially intended to step down last year, but stayed on to guide the monarchy through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lord Chamberlain oversees all senior appointments in the household, is the channel of communication between the sovereign and the House of Lords and ensures co-ordination between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.

During a ceremony held at Windsor Castle, the queen accepted her former royal aide’s wand and insignia of office.

The official engagement was recorded in the Court Circular – a daily list of the events attended by the queen and her family.

It said: “The Earl Peel had an audience of The Queen today, delivered up his Wand and Insignia of Office as Lord Chamberlain and the Badge of Chancellor of the Royal Victorian Order and took leave upon relinquishing his appointment as Lord Chamberlain, when Her Majesty invested him with the Royal Victorian Chain.”

The queen recently conferred a prestigious honour on Earl Peel, making him a Permanent Lord in Waiting.

Meanwhile, as part of security preparations, Thames Valley Police are carrying out specialist searches around Windsor town, with officers examining street furniture including phone boxes, post boxes, drains and bins as part of the operation.

The force said it has put a range of visible and covert security measures in place for Saturday, when the duke is to be honoured with a ceremonial royal funeral in St George’s Chapel.

It will be a royal funeral like no other, with the queen and her family wearing face masks and socially distancing as they gather to say their final farewell.

The queen may have to sit alone during the service due to social distancing rules, the Telegraph has reported.

She is staying at Windsor with a reduced number of about 22 staff, in what has been dubbed HMS Bubble.

The duke’s long-standing close aide, his private secretary Brigadier Archie Miller Bakewell, will be one of the few, and possibly only, non-royals invited to attend the historic occasion inside St George’s Chapel.

As a member of HMS Bubble, he may be the only person eligible to sit with the queen.

It is thought Philip’s funeral could attract one of the largest television audiences of the year.

The biggest TV audience so far this year saw 25.1 million people watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s televised address on January 4 announcing a new national lockdown, while 13.9 million tuned in for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with US broadcaster Oprah Winfrey last month.

Broadcasters have yet to confirm their plans for Philip’s funeral, but the BBC and ITV are likely to devote several hours to the event, including the ceremony at 3pm.

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