Queen Elizabeth got a very early bite of birthday cake on Thursday.
The monarch, who will celebrate her 90th birthday on April 21, was toasted with Champagne and a slice of fruit cake by members of the local Women’s Institute in Norfolk, where the longest-reigning monarch made her annual visit to the quaint village hall located just two miles from Anmer Hall, Prince William and Princess Kate‘s family home.
“We’re the first off the mark!” Yvonne Browne, vice-president of the group, tells PEOPLE of the celebration. “It went brilliantly.”
A smattering of a dozen or so locals gathered outside the cozy hall on the cloudy, chilly afternoon (around 36 degrees) to catch a glimpse of the Queen. She arrived with a bright smile in a peacock-blue coat, faithfully carrying her trusty handbag.
The monarch mom (and granny!) used the occasion to give a brief address about her year – which she said had been marked by a “new addition to the family” – 8-month-old great-granddaughter Princess Charlotte.
The women of the group, which the Queen has been visiting for most of the last 73 years, gave her an early birthday present too. “We’ve bought her a sweet chestnut tree and a plaque for it,” says Browne. “We presented her the plaque and a photograph of the tree.”
The Queen cut the cake, and it went better than when she tries to do so at the organization’s 100th birthday celebrations last year.
“We had a little bit of a joke because when she went to the Albert Hall in London last year she had difficulty cutting the cake,” recalls Browne. “I said to her ‘I hope you can cut this, Ma’am.’ And the knife went in easily so that was good!”
Arriving at the village hall a short drive from her nearby Sandringham home, the royal stayed about an hour and a half. She is “very much a member” of the group and after the national anthem (“God Save the Queen”), she joined in the singing of traditional hymn “Jerusalem,” Browne says.
She viewed the competitions, including a ginger cake bake-off – spotting how the loaves seemed the same size and noting that “perhaps we’d all used the same recipe. She does enjoy ginger cake,” Browne says.
In keeping with the homespun feel of the group, there was also a display of fridge magnets and the exhibition of “my favorite dog” as well as a little skit by three of the women.
In her address, the Queen said she’d spotted in the minutes that the group had been out for the Giant Beach Picnic event at Hunstanton beach.
“We had been told it was going to rain, but we were fortunate we had a sunny day,” says Browne. “She remarked that when she went to Lancaster on a visit, they thought it was going to be sunny but it absolutely poured with rain and nobody had raincoats.”
The Queen “seemed very happy,” Browne adds. “She just likes to come to the meetings. It’s part of her holiday in Norfolk – it’s what she likes to do.”
The Queen left with the cake, a basket of spring flowers, a jar of marmalade and a plaque for the sweet chestnut tree.
“It said from the members of Sandringham WI on he occasion of Her Majesty’s birthday,” says Browne.
Fellow member Jackie Cartledge, 59, from West Newton, sat with the Queen at her table. “She was very happy. She loves coming. She talks about all sorts of things – families and gardening, all sorts of things. She likes to hear everyone’s views,” says Cartledge. ”
“She makes you feel very at ease which is lovely. She will be back next year. Definitely.”
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The Queen, who is president of the national Women’s Institute Federation always makes a point of popping in for one of the group’s New Year meetings when she’s staying at Sandringham House – where she recently entertained her extended family for Christmas.
She and husband Prince Philip, 94, are based at Sandringham until early February.
Founded in Canada in 1897, the WI has chapters throughout the U.K. Local members meet monthly, often over homemade jellies, jams and baked goods. As the Queen herself put it, the WI “can make a real difference to the lives of women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, in a spirit of friendship, cooperation and support.”
It remains to be seen if granddaughter-in-law Princess Kate will follow suit. She has been invited to join the local group, based at Anmer village hall, close to her home, and she replied last year, thanking them and saying she was “interested” to read about their program of events.