The Queen has carried out her first in-person public engagement of the year – two days after the country’s strict COVID-19 lockdown was eased.
The 94-year-old appeared in high spirits as she went maskless in lime green during her visit to the Air Forces memorial in Runnymede to mark the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
Runnymede in Surrey is near Windsor Castle, where the Queen has been living with Prince Philip, 99, who recently spent four weeks in hospital for treatment for an infection, as well as a heart procedure.
"It’s been a long time since I’ve been here," said the monarch, who is also Queen of Australia, as she arrived.
The Queen’s equerry, Major Tom White, laid a wreath on her behalf and she will later view panels bearing the names of Australian war dead and a display of fallen airmen and women in the memorial cloister, before meeting serving RAAF personnel.
The royal has been carrying out her official duties via videolink since the third lockdown was imposed at the start of the year – and has rarely left the castle since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
More than 350,000 men and women have served in the RAAF since its formation in 1921, fighting in conflicts ranging from the Second World War to others in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq, with more than 11,100 losing their lives in service.
Prince William will also mark the centenary with a video message being released later today reflecting on the service, courage and sacrifice made by generations of RAAF men and women.
His message will be played at the centenary dinner being held in the Australian capital Canberra – with guests including the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the governor-general, retired General David Hurley, who is the Queen’s representative.
The Queen was last seen outside her Berkshire residence in November for the annual Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph.
A few days before that, she wore a face mask in public for the first time during a visit to the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of his burial.
Her Majesty has embraced virtual royal engagements via video call over the past year with several memorable moments, including one where she encouraged those who were hesitant to have the vaccine to "think about other people rather than themselves".