Prince William and Kate Middleton have stepped in for the Queen to welcome a president and first lady to the UK at the first royal event at Buckingham Palace since lockdown.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greeted President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was accompanied by his wife Olena, during an audience on behalf of Her Majesty.
The royal pair met the president and his wife, who are on a two-day visit, in the palace’s Throne Room.
Neither parties wore masks and they did not partake in the traditional handshakes which were the pre-pandemic custom for royal audiences.
During the brief meeting, the couples stood socially distanced before moving to two separate ornate sofas to continue their conversation.
Kate, who was dressed in a cornflower blue belted dress, and William, in a suit and tie, were seen smiling broadly as they spoke to their guests.
The palace confirmed it was the first time the Queen’s central London residence, seen as the headquarters of the monarchy, had been used for a royal engagement for seven months – since the nation went into lockdown during the coronavirus outbreak.
A palace spokeswoman said: “The Duke and Duchess received the president and first lady of Ukraine during their visit to the UK on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen.”
As William, second in line to the throne and a future king, and Kate carried out their royal diplomatic duties at the palace, the Queen, 94, was settling back into life at Windsor Castle, having just returned to the Berkshire royal residence from Sandringham on Tuesday.
Philip, 99, has remained at Wood Farm on the Norfolk estate, after the couple spent the last seven months together, first at Windsor, then at Balmoral, followed by a few weeks at Sandringham.
They are due to reach their 73rd wedding anniversary next month.
Despite William and Kate’s audience, investiture ceremonies and other large-scale events planned for Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle this year have been postponed.
The palace said the decision had been taken in line with “current government guidelines, and as a sensible precaution in the current circumstances”.
The Queen still intends to use the palace for audiences and engagements, the palace said at the time.
But royal aides will be keeping a close eye on the rising cases of coronavirus as they plan the monarch’s diary.
The royal family adapted to an unprecedented change in royal duties during lockdown.
Public appearances were swapped for online video calls as the Windsors followed the rules and stayed at home.
Garden parties, investitures, state visits and foreign tours were put on hold as popular, traditional annual engagements drawing huge crowds, along with run-of-the-mill meet and greets and walkabouts, were deemed unsafe.
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In more recent months, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, William, Kate and other royals have carried out socially distanced engagements, including Kate travelling to Derby to meet university students on Tuesday.
The Queen hosted a special open-air ceremony at Windsor Castle to knight veteran NHS fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore in July.
The monarch left Buckingham Palace on March 19 and retreated to Windsor ahead of the lockdown.
She was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh and they were cared for by a loyal reduced household, dubbed HMS Bubble.