SMILING and waving, the Duke of Edinburgh left hospital yesterday morning to rejoin the Royal Family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk following a major Christmas health scare.
As he was discharged, the Duke thanked staff at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire who cared for him over the Christmas weekend.
The 90-year-old Royal was sitting in the front passenger seat of a dark Range Rover as he began the hour-long journey to Sandringham at 9.25am yesterday. Two other Range Rovers carrying royal protection officers followed him.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “On departure, Prince Philip thanked the staff at Papworth for the excellent care he has received during his stay. He is very much looking forward to rejoining his family."
Scores of police officers began combing the hospital's grounds in the early hours of yesterday morning in preparation for the Duke's departure.
It is not yet clear how active the Duke will be when he rejoins his family, or whether he will attend Sunday’s service at St Mary Magdalene church on the estate. He missed the Christmas Day service at the church, which was attended by the Duchess of Cambridge for the first time.
The Duke was taken to Papworth, near Cambridge, on Friday night after he complained of chest pains.
Following tests, doctors discovered a blocked artery and he underwent a “minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting”, which was declared a success.
It was the most serious health scare yet to be suffered by the Duke, who is known for his robust constitution and active lifestyle.
He had hoped to be discharged from hospital in time for yesterday's Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham, which he normally leads, but remained under observation in hospital.
Despite the setback, he was said to be in good spirits.
He has shunned the pursuits of typical pensioners and, even as an octogenarian, continued to compete in demanding carriage driving competitions which he took up after having to give up polo.
The Duke’s most recent illness was an uncharacteristic cold in October that forced him to pull out of an overnight stay in Italy for the launch of the ARC Green Pilgrimage Network.
At the time, he had just completed a busy 11-day official Royal tour to Australia with the Queen, 85, that saw them visit Perth, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.
His next formal engagement is due to be a dinner at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge on January 17.
The Duke was visited in hospital by William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry on Christmas Day. The brothers drove separate cars to Papworth from Sandringham, which is the Queen's private Norfolk estate, taking the Duke of York's daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and the Princess Royal's children, Zara and Peter, with them for a 45-minute visit.
They made the journey after having lunch at Sandringham, having changed into more casual attire from their earlier outfits for the traditional Christmas church service at the estate.
William, who is rarely photographed wearing glasses, wore them as he drove a Range Rover with Peter and Zara as his passengers, while Harry drove an Audi with his cousins, Beatrice and Eugenie, inside.
Their visit would have been a welcome distraction for the Duke who is thought to have missed his first Christmas morning service at Sandringham, an annual tradition for the Royal Family, since the early 1990s.
The Queen’s Christmas Day message, recorded before her husband fell ill, described the importance of family. In her annual address to the nation, she spoke of the weddings of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and of Zara and Mike Tindall. In times of hardship we often “find strength from our families”, she said.
“The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together.”