'Gobsmacking': Andrew sparks backlash after escorting Queen at Prince Philip memorial
Watch: Queen Elizabeth arrives on Andrew’s arm to Prince Philip’s memorial service
Prince Andrew took a central role in the Duke of Edinburgh's memorial service, escorting the Queen down the aisle before taking a front seat in a sign he still has the support of senior members of the family.
The decision by the royals has sparked some criticism following Andrew's settlement with his sexual assault accuser Virginia Giuffre.
The Queen walked arm-in-arm with Prince Andrew at the memorial for the Duke of Edinburgh, in his first public appearance since reaching the settlement in a US court.
The monarch, 95, held on to her second son's right elbow as she entered Westminster Abbey, having been escorted by the Duke from Windsor Castle before taking a front row seat close to his other siblings.
The pair opted to enter via Poet's Corner, which is a shorter walk for the Queen.
As they walked towards her seat in the abbey in a small procession, the monarch also held a walking stick in her right hand.
They walked at a slow but steady pace both looking ahead and at the end of the aisle they separated – with Andrew giving a last glance to his mother as she turned right.
His appearance was the Queen’s way of showing that her second son still has a place at family occasions, according to a royal commentator.
Former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt told the PA news agency: “It didn’t happen by chance.
“He could have sat in the congregation with others, with his relatives, but they actively decided that he would have this role of supporting her.
“So she has chosen, in essence, to remind people that he hasn’t admitted any wrongdoing, he’s not guilty of anything, he’s innocent.
“And she’s very clearly stating that he has a role at family occasions.”
But the move was met with incredulity by some royal commentators, noted the effect Andrew has had on the image of the royal family in recent years.
Charlie Proctor tweeted: "This is honestly gobsmacking.
"Nobody has done more damage to the Royal Family in recent times than Prince Andrew.
"Giving him the main role of ‘consort to his mother’ is quite ridiculous. How much has he cost Mummy again in legal fees?"
Victoria Murphy added: "Because of the nature of the event, I don’t think Prince Andrew’s appearance alongside the Queen is an indication that anything has changed as far as his public role goes.
"But it does send a message that he still has a very important role by her side in her personal life."
As the service began, the Prince of Wales leaned over to the Queen and spoke to her briefly.
Prince George and Princess Charlotte were also present in honour of their great-grandfather – the first time they have attended a major public church service.
Watch: Members of the Royal Family arrive for the Duke of Edinburgh's memorial
Some 1,800 people packed the gothic church – in marked contrast to Philip’s funeral where only 30 were permitted to attend amid COVID restrictions, with the Queen sat alone, masked in mourning.
The Queen had been determined to make the appearance at the deeply personal and significant occasion on Tuesday in honour of her “strength and stay” Philip – with her attendance only confirmed the same morning.
Read more: Downing Street apologises to Queen for lockdown parties on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral
In February, Andrew agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Virginia Giuffre which included a "substantial donation to Ms Giuffre's charity in support of victim's rights".
Giuffre was suing Andrew over allegations he sexually abused her more than two decades ago when she was 17, a minor under US law, after convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein trafficked her to England.
The settlement is not an admission of guilt and Andrew has always denied the allegations.
Andrew has largely withdrawn from public life following the allegations, and was stripped of his military roles and HRH status in January.
Despite his troubles he has remained close to the Queen and was spotted leaving Windsor Castle with his mother ahead of the service.
Her Majesty has been blighted by health issues in recent months, and a final decision on her attendance was only taken this morning.
The 95-year-old head of state pulled out of the Commonwealth Day service earlier this month due to comfort issues and has spoken about not being able to move.
She recently recovered from COVID-19 and appeared on good form at Windsor last week.
Andrew took a front row sear in Westminster Abbey for the service paying tribute to his father, close to his siblings.
He sat with his daughters, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, for the service held 11 months after the duke's death.
The farewell to Philip in St George’s Chapel last April was limited to just 30 people in the midst of the pandemic and mass singing was banned, with the Queen sitting alone in a mask.