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Markle joins British royal family at Christmas service

Gregory Katz and Alastair Grant
Associated Press

Sandringham, England – Queen Elizabeth II and senior members of the British royal family — along with newcomer Meghan Markle, an American actress engaged to Prince Harry — attended a Christmas church service on Monday as a crowd of local residents gathered.

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, Prince Philip, 2nd left, with Meghan Markle, 2nd right, the fiancee of Prince Harry, right walk to the traditional Christmas Day church service, at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham.

Markle smiled and gave a brief wave in her first public appearance with the queen. She and Harry stopped to talk with several locals on their way back to the queen’s residence.

“She was very, very lovely,” said Judith Wallis, a woman who chatted briefly with the couple. The crowd was larger than in previous years, perhaps because of curiosity about Markle.

The queen was joined by her husband, Prince Philip, and close family members including grandson Prince William and his wife, Kate, who is expected to give birth to the couple’s third child in the spring.

Elizabeth, 91, and Philip, 96, missed last year’s church service because they had the flu, but they seemed in good health during Monday’s brief appearance. Philip walked back to the queen’s house with other royals, but Elizabeth opted to be driven.

She and Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, rode to and from the service in a chauffeured Bentley with a horse-themed hood ornament, perhaps chosen by the queen, who loves horses and horse racing.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, center, and Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, right, lead out other members of the family with Reverend Canon Jonathan Riviere, left, as they leave after attending the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day church service at St Mary Magdalene Church.

Elizabeth used her annual Christmas message to pay tribute to the way London and Manchester pulled together after extremist attacks earlier this year.

The brief speech was televised on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom and the 51 other Commonwealth countries.

The queen said it was her privilege to visit young survivors of the attack on a Manchester concert hall as they were recovering from the blast which claimed 22 lives.

“I describe that hospital visit as a ‘privilege’ because the patients I met were an example to us all, showing extraordinary bravery and resilience,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth also had kind words for her husband, who this year stepped down from most public duties because of his advancing years. She praised him for his “support and unique sense of humor.”

This is the first Christmas the family is joined by Markle. The actress and Prince Harry plan to marry at Windsor Castle in May.

Markle seemed comfortable walking to the church arm-in-arm with Harry. She and Kate curtsied in front of the queen after the service was over.