No house guests, no church – but no face masks in the Queen’s Balmoral Bubble as local staff have isolated for two weeks before the Monarch’s retreat to the Scots Barontal style castle with Prince Philip
- Monarch and her husband have retreated to Scottish holiday home at Balmoral
- Courtiers have spent weeks planning how a ‘new normal’ can work at her castle
- The Queen, 94, cannot go to church and family cannot stay in the main house
- PM’s traditional visit has been cancelled – believed to be first time in her reign
There used to be a plan for what the Royal Family would do in the event of a pandemic.
The Queen and Prince Philip would take refuge on the Royal Yacht Britannia off the north-west coast of Scotland.
But Her Majesty’s beloved vessel was decommissioned in 1997.
So, as Covid-19 continues to exert its grip on the nation, the monarch and her husband have retreated to their Scottish holiday home at Balmoral. But it is not business as usual – far from it.
Courtiers have spent weeks planning how a ‘new normal’ can work at her Scots Baronial style castle.
The Queen was able to continue riding during lockdown, and the same procedures are in place to allow her to do so at Balmoral. Her head groom there has quarantined for two weeks, to ensure they are Covid-free
The Queen, 94, will not be able to attend church, members of her family cannot stay in the main house and local staff have had to isolate for two weeks before her visit to ensure they are virus-free.
A forensic cleaning operation is adhered to at all times, including the Queen’s red boxes of state, and to enable Her Majesty to ride her beloved fell ponies only one groom is allowed access to her steeds.
The Prime Minister’s traditional visit has also been cancelled – believed to be the first time in her reign.
But at least the Queen does not have to wear a mask. Or even see any of her courtiers wearing one.
Due to the limited number of staff – dubbed ‘HMS Bubble’ – that are in close contact with her and Philip, 99, no one has to wear one.
Shoots – an intrinsic part of the Highlands experience – are also in doubt, not only due to the Scottish government guidelines of staying 2m apart from other households but because of food supply troubles decimating grouse numbers.
And the two popular Ghillies Balls – highlights of the summer season where a kilt-wearing Prince Charles dances with the Queen – have been cancelled.
A royal aide said: ‘Clearly, Her Majesty wanted to go to Balmoral, as normal, for August and September, but it was the practicalities and Government advice, of both England and Scotland, that had to be considered.
Once the rules changed, allowing travel and households to meet, it became a possibility.
Balmoral is one of the Queen’s favourite places. Princess Eugenie once said: ‘It’s the most beautiful place on Earth. I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands’
‘A small number of staff have travelled from Windsor to Balmoral, where effectively a new bubble has been created. Procedures are in place to mitigate any kind of risk. No one has to wear masks in the bubble, as they are deemed safe as one household.
‘It’s not the normal Balmoral but they’ll try and make it as normal and enjoyable as possible.’
Indeed, the Queen and Philip, who took a private plane from RAF Northolt to Aberdeenshire on Tuesday, appear to have arrived in the nick of time.
Hours after their arrival, Aberdeen – just 50 miles from her 50,000-acre estate near Ballater – was put into local lockdown, with pubs and restaurants forced to close.
The Queen is seen arriving in Scotland for her annual summer break at Balmoral
The Queen’s two dorgis Candy and Vulcan were spotted being carried from the aircraft by footmen.
Balmoral is one of the Queen’s favourite places. Princess Eugenie once said: ‘It’s the most beautiful place on Earth. I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands.
‘Walks, picnics, dogs… and people coming in and out all the time.’
Under normal circumstances, senior Royals take it in turns to visit.
This year, however, visitors such as Edward and Sophie Wessex and newly-weds Princess Beatrice and Edo Mapelli Mozzi will stay in houses on the estate, such as the seven-bedroom Craigowan Lodge or the smaller three-bedroom Tam-na-Ghar cottage.
The big question is whether disgraced Prince Andrew and ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York – famously disliked by Philip – will visit.
Despite the controversy over Andrew’s involvement with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the 60-year-old remains the Queen’s favourite son and as such, is likely to go.
One definite set of absentees are Prince Harry, wife Meghan and baby Archie.
After snubbing the annual invitation last year, the Sussexes had intended to visit this year from their new LA home.
But those plans have apparently been abandoned due to the pandemic.
The Prince of Wales will travel to Birkhall, his home at Balmoral, next week and will be joined by Camilla after she’s spent time with her children and grandchildren.
Charles, 71, has already ‘popped in for a cup of tea’ with his mother and father at Windsor, and will likely join them for supper on the estate.
William and Kate are also planning a trip to Birkhall before George, seven, and five-year-old Charlotte return to school.
Princess Anne will celebrate her 70th birthday next week by sailing off the coast of Scotland with husband Sir Timothy Laurence, 65, before she visits her parents.
Scottish guidelines allow people to meet with two other households indoors, as long as a 2m distance is maintained.
Queen Elizabeth, pictured leaving Crathie Kirk near her Balmoral estate on October 6, 2019 will not be attending this Sunday’s service due to the threat of Covid-19
Outdoor recreation with people from up to four other households at a time is permitted, with a maximum of 15 people.
So, outside lunches, barbecues, deer-stalking and even shoots in theory could go ahead.
Last year, all shoots were cancelled due to a shortage of grouse after their food supply was hit by bad weather and heather beetle.
An aide said: ‘There will still be barbecues, following the appropriate guidelines, walking, riding and fishing. Not that Prince Philip fishes any more, but it’s still very popular with other members of the family.
‘Next week is the Glorious Twelfth [start of the shooting season] so the Queen will decide whether the shoots can go ahead, in line with the grouse numbers and advice from the estate staff. She no longer shoots, but enjoys the lunches – which will take place at any event.’
The Mail on Sunday has revealed the Queen was able to continue riding during lockdown, and the same procedures are in place to allow her to do so at Balmoral.
Her head groom there has quarantined for two weeks, to ensure they are Covid-free.
Not everyone is happy with the new arrangements.
Royal staff, including three chefs, footmen, housemaids, pages and under- butlers who were sent on ahead to isolate were reportedly left a little ‘stir crazy’ after they were not allowed to visit nearby Ballater and their sports club was shut.
The Queen has decided not to attend Crathie Kirk – the local church on the estate and where well-wishers turn out every Sunday to see her
An insider said: ‘Without all the normal facilities which make a stay pleasant for staff, everyone’s saying it’s like being in Colditz. There is absolutely nothing people can do. The staff have been told they cannot leave the castle grounds.’
The Queen has decided not to attend Crathie Kirk – the local church on the estate and where well-wishers turn out every Sunday to see her.
This is partly to do with having to wear a mask (she would prefer not to), and partly to avoid encouraging crowds to gather in the pandemic.
Traditionally, the Prime Minister visits Balmoral in September – last year Boris Johnson was accompanied by his now fiancée Carrie Symonds, 32.
But this year, coronavirus has put paid to that – perhaps to the relief of both new mum Carrie and the Queen.
She is not generally a fan of babies and many PMs have found the Balmoral visits intolerable, not least Margaret Thatcher, who famously ‘couldn’t get away fast enough’.
No opportunity then, for the Queen to lobby Mr Johnson on a replacement for Britannia.
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