Stairs are a step too far for frail Queen Elizabeth
Her aides have always insisted she is not slowing down, but Queen Elizabeth made an unexpected change to a major public appearance after deciding a steep flight of steps would be too much for her.
She had been due to take part in an ancient installation ceremony for Knights of the Order of the Bath at Westminster Abbey, an event she only attends every eight years.
Dressed in a cumbersome robe with a train, worn over an evening dress, the queen (88) would have needed to descend a short flight of steps to approach the altar in the Abbey's The Lady Chapel of King Henry VII, then make her way back up the steps to her stall.
But after a dress rehearsal on Thursday, which she did not attend, aides decided the monarch should not go ahead with that part of the ceremony. Prince Charles deputised for her instead.
Buckingham Palace announced two years ago that the queen was giving up long-haul travel as a concession to her age, but otherwise the palace has repeatedly insisted the queen is not scaling back her workload. A royal source said: "It is purely for the queen's comfort. After the rehearsal yesterday, a decision was taken by the Royal Household and the queen that she would not carry out that particular ceremony.
"She will still go up the steps to get to her stall and descend them at the end of the service, but this will mean she only has to do that once."
The source added: "The ceremony involves a lot of walking and the queen will still play a very active part, but the steps involved are almost vertical and it was just thought that, wearing all the regalia, she should not take part in that particular moment."
Her stall in the rear corner of the Lady Chapel is reached via six wooden steps, including a right-angle turn. The queen has to squeeze through a gap less than 2ft wide at the top of the steps to get into the stall. Westminster Abbey had installed a remote camera in the Lady Chapel to capture the central part of the service, known as the offering, for the first time.
Buckingham Palace had also sent the media a photograph of a painting of George V carrying out the same ceremony so that the two could be compared side by side. But just 75 minutes before the start of the service, palace staff told the media the queen would remain in her stall for that part of the service.
During a visit to Rome earlier this year by the queen, a visit to part of the Pope's residence in the Vatican was ruled because of the number of steps.
Despite the concern over the stairs today, the Queen ascended a flight of 15 stone steps to get to the Lady Chapel at the back of the Abbey. She also managed the six steps to her stall without any problems, unlike one of the elderly knights, who tripped on his way up a similar flight of steps inside the Chapel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)