After opening her Christmas presents a little after 3am on that chilly Christmas morning last Sunday, eight-year-old India Harrowing didn’t yet know that an even bigger surprise was awaiting her just an hour's drive away.
With gift-giving ticked off the to-do list and dad offering to make a start on the festive lunch later on, the excited youngster – who considers herself a ‘Royal superfan’ – and beloved mum Zoe made their way to St Mary Magdalene’s church in Sandringham, for what would be their first Christmas spent greeting members of the Royal Family as they attended their special annual service.
As the family waved at the hundreds of onlookers, wishing each of them a ‘Merry Christmas’, the Princess of Wales was drawn to little India, who was holding out a beautiful bouquet of flowers for her.
"I was a little bit nervous meeting Catherine because I’m a little bit shy," India tells us as we hear about her special day. "I’d never seen a real life Princess before, and now I have. I’m so happy!"
Mum Zoe adds: “We’d love to make it part of our Christmas tradition, wouldn’t we?”
Here, the mother-and-daughter duo tell us what it was really like to come face-to-face with the “lovely” Duchess of Cambridge and what a difference it made to their Christmas Day…
Zoe: On Sunday morning, India woke up bursting with excitement about going down to Sandringham to meet some of the Royal Family for their Christmas celebration. India had taken a sudden interest in the Royals in around 2019, shortly after the birth of Prince Archie. When she was around five, she drew a picture for Harry and Meghan to congratulate them, which we sent away to them, and then she got one of the little replies back with a picture! What’s so special is that our interest and love of the Royals has just come from India herself. I’ve always loved and followed their lives, but not to the extent that we now do with India.
India: I’d always dreamed of meeting The Queen! I got interested in the Royals because I thought they’re very kind and sweet and lovable.
Zoe: Exactly! So, I’d promised her back in 2020 that I’d take her to meet The Queen and the rest of the Royals, but lockdown hit, so we weren’t able to go. Then we were planning on going to meet Her Majesty this year, but of course she sadly passed away in September, but I promised India we’d go anyway to meet the rest of the family. So, we woke up at 3am so India could have a chance to open her presents from Santa before we left. We’re only around a 45 minute drive from Sandringham but we thought we should wake up extra early just in case there were big queues. We left at 5.20am and got to Sandringham around 6.10am.
India: We do a lot of dog walking around Sandringham with our sausage dog. And the park there is amazing!
Zoe: And we got there at the right time, didn’t we? Because there were only around 20 people in front of us! There were police around everyone so we felt really safe and secure. We queued until around 10.15am, and then they let us through into the walk that the Royals would come through. Then they came through the gates around 10.50am and everyone began cheering.
India: We were behind the barrier and when we were waiting we saw the Royals come. And it was really cold, so we had to wrap up nice and warm. When they came out, everyone was shouting ‘Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!’ and ‘Hello!’ to them and waving. I was a little bit nervous meeting Catherine because I’m a little bit shy.
Zoe: But Prince William waved at you, didn’t he? And so did Princess Charlotte! We were all given service sheets – which I didn’t expect – and it was played on a loud speaker, so we were able to join in with the hymns, which was really lovely.
India: They came out in a line. Charles and Camilla came out first, then Catherine and Prince William and their children.
Zoe: Then it was Eugenie and Beatrice and their husbands, and Andrew and Edward and the rest. There were quite a lot of them! The only one not there was the Princess Royal, but her children were there. And Mike Tindall got quite a big reception when he passed through – I’m guessing he had an I’m A Celebrity fan-base there. The crowd was roaring!
India: When Catherine came over, I gave her a bunch of flowers – red and white ones with a gold pine cone in it – and she asked me what my name was. She said thank you for the flowers, and I said, ‘You’re welcome’. She thanked us for coming and she said, ‘Have you had a nice morning?’ and I said ‘Yes’. And then she asked if Father Christmas came and I said, ‘Yes’. She said she’d woken up early too.
Zoe: She was so lovely! Everyone was all-smiles – every single one of them. Even if they didn’t speak to the public, they waved and were happy and all so polite.
India: Catherine is beautiful like Queen Elizabeth and she is kind to children. I feel lucky that I met her, and right at the end of our conversation, she said, ‘Well, I better go help William with the children’. I’d like to meet Princess Charlotte and William and Harry and Meghan again.
Zoe: We’d love to make it part of our Christmas tradition, wouldn’t we?
India: Yeah I’d love to bring the rest of my family along as well.
Zoe: Daddy didn’t fancy it this year, did he? So, it was just me and India, but I think we’ll be able to drag him along next year. We’d been to Sandringham to lay flowers down for the Queen and Prince Phillip when they both passed away. The Royals are something that she enjoys and that she’s interested in, and I think it’s important for her to express that. I’m really proud of her for taking an interest in the way she does. Not a lot of children can understand it or get their heads around it, but she definitely can. I think it’s lovely.
India: I’d never seen a real life Princess before, and now I have. I’m so happy! It was such a special day. It reminded me of how much I love The Queen.
Zoe: It was such a positive day. It was peaceful and pleasant for everyone.
India: It was more than lovely, it was amazing!
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