Queen Elizabeth honoured late explorer Sir Edmund Hillary at a special service of thanksgiving yesterday (02.04.08).

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The queen was joined by Sir Edmund’s family and dignitaries from his native New Zealand in St. George’s Chapel at her Berkshire residence Windsor Castle to pay her respects to the intrepid adventurer, who died in January aged 88.

Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, and news of the feat reached Elizabeth on the day of her coronation.

Speaking of the “wonderful coincidence” of the two events, Sir Edmund’s son Peter said: “For my father his association with the royal family was something that gave him great pleasure and honour. He was very grateful for that friendship.”

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark added: “They shared a history.”

The queen met the adventurer on a number of occasions, the last being the annual Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2004, where Knights of the Garter meet to witness new knights being bestowed with the honour, which is the highest in the land.

The queen was joined at yesterday’s service by her daughter Princess Anne and her daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex, the wife of Prince Edward.

However, her husband Prince Philip was unable to attend the ceremony after being taken ill with a cold. A royal aide said: “The duke didn’t want to infect everybody with his cold, which is quite bad.”