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Prince Philip in hospital as British royals mark Christmas

- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2011

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II emphasized the importance of family in her Christmas message this year, and her grandchildren brought some Christmas cheer to her husband, Prince Philip, as he recovered in a hospital after a heart procedure.

The 90-year-old prince was forced to miss the royal family's traditional Christmas festivities — opening presents together on Christmas Eve, going to a morning church service and viewing the queen's Christmas broadcast — after doctors put a coronary stent in. Philip went to the hospital Friday with complaints of chest pains, which doctors determined were caused by a blocked coronary artery.

Buckingham Palace said Philip was "in good spirits" and would remain in the hospital under observation.

Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry, drove in separate cars to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge from Sandringham, Elizabeth's sprawling estate, where the royal family gathers each year to celebrate Christmas.

Prince Andrew's daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, also came to the hospital, along with Princess Anne's children, Zara Phillips and Peter Phillips.

The visit from the royal grandchildren came after Elizabeth's annual pre-recorded Christmas message to the nation aired. The royal family reportedly watches the broadcast together every year.

The theme of her broadcast — family — was especially poignant with Philip in the hospital recovering. The message was recorded Dec. 9, before Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, went into the hospital.

Wearing a festive red dress, the queen said the importance of family was driven home by the marriages of two of her grandchildren this year — William and Miss Phillips. William's royal wedding to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey captivated the world in April, and Miss Phillips and rugby player Michael Tindall had a quiet but elegant celebration in July.

The 85-year-old queen has made a prerecorded Christmas broadcast on radio since 1952 and on television since 1957. She writes the speeches herself, and the broadcasts mark the rare occasion on which the queen voices her own opinion without government consultation.

Elizabeth spoke of the strength family can provide during times of hardship and how friendships often are formed in difficult times.

She pointed to the Commonwealth nations as an example that family "does not necessarily mean blood relatives, but often a description of a community."

With one notable absence — Philip's — the royal family kicked off their Christmas earlier Sunday with a traditional morning service at St. Mary Magdelene Church on the Sandringham estate.

The huge crowds that gathered outside the church to catch a glimpse of the queen got an early peek when the royals made a quick private visit to the church ahead of the services. Less than two hours later, they were back — in different clothes — for the Christmas service.

The queen, dressed in a lavender-colored coat and hat, arrived first in a royal limousine, leading the way into the church. Her oldest son, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, trailed behind.

Harry walked in with his brother, William, and new sister-in-law, Kate — now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The duchess, whose style is closely watched around the world and who sends any dress she wears flying off the shelves in Britain, wore an eggplant-colored coat and matching hat.

Among the other royals, Miss Phillips was joined by Mr. Tindall.

After the service, local children lined up to give bouquets of flowers to the queen. Thanking each well-wisher, the queen then handed the bouquets to granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie.

Well-wisher Camilla Fitt, 71, said Charles told her that his father was "very determined" to get well.

"Charles said he is coming on," Ms. Fitt said.

The royal family then traveled back to the house for lunch, an integral part of their celebration.

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