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The Queen has honoured Sir Edmund Hillary by paying a personal tribute to his heroic achievements in a poignant and rare service for his family at Windsor Castle.
Overcoming earlier criticism for not attending Sir Edmund's funeral in New Zealand, the Queen invited the mountaineer's family to attend a special memorial at the historic St George's Chapel, spiritual home of the Knights of the Garter.
In a solemn ceremony attended by the Queen and Princess Anne and Prime Minister Helen Clark, Sir Edmund's banner, denoting his membership of Britain's most senior and oldest order of chivalry, was handed to his wife, June, Lady Hillary.
Last night, a spokesman for the Queen, Stuart Neale, said the service was in recognition of the enormous regard the Queen and the Royal Family held for Sir Edmund.
‘‘Previously, his achievements had been recognised by the granting of the Order of the Garter, which is one of the few awards bestowed purely as one of the Queen's gifts. Recipients of the Order are her personal choice and there are only ever 24 Knights.''
Mr Neale said the Queen had huge affection for Sir Edmund and had made a point of seeing him whenever she visited New Zealand.
St George's Chapel was the spiritual home for Knights of the Garter and the service was particularly poignant as Sir Edmund's banner, which had been removed on his death, was formally handed to his family at last night's service.
The service included readings by Miss Clark and Sir Edmund's son Peter, a reading of an Allen Curnow poem by his daughter Sarah, a reading by Lady Hillary's son, Sam Mulgrew, and a karanga by Mereana Hond - a Maori ceremonial call of welcome, traditionally performed by the women of the tribe to acknowledge the ancestral spirits.
The service also included singing by Dunedin's Jonathan Lemalu and an excerpt of Sir Edmund's own writing read by Lady Hillary's daughter, Rebecca Hayman.
Nicholas Madden (26), of Dunedin, also sang a solo, How Beautiful are the Mountains, written by his father Richard Madden, who is choral director at Knox College, University of Otago.
In typical fashion, the service celebrated Sir Edmund's humanity, rather than the giant strides that took him to the top of Mt Everest.
Dean of Windsor and Register of the Order of the Garter, the Right Rev David Conner, said the memorial was not purely to commemorate Sir Edmund, but also to commit to the causes he held dear.
He said: ‘‘From his appointment as a Knight of the Garter in 1995 to the present moment, Sir Edmund has been regularly prayed for in this place by the community of the College of St George and it is our particular privilege today to offer up his garter banner on the altar as a token of a life laid down before God for the common good.
‘‘Yet we are not here simply to recall the blessings of the past but, more importantly and in the spirit of Sir Edmund, to commit ourselves to the future wellbeing of humanity, praying that we may have strength of purpose and courage to build on the strong foundation which he has left for us. To use his own words, words that so closely reflect his fundamental modesty: ‘Why make a fuss about something that's done anyway? I was never one to obsess about the past. Too much to do in the future!'
‘‘We best honour his memory by following his good example of self-sacrificial service given for the benefit of generations yet unborn.''
Miss Clark said the Queen's service was rare and special.
‘‘It is now almost three months since New Zealanders learned of the passing of Sir Edmund - our most loved most famous and most international citizen.
‘‘Sir Edmund stood tall amongst us like no other.
‘‘His outstanding achievements as an adventurer and explorer on their own, secured Sir Edmund's place in New Zealand and world history. But the very high esteem in which we held Sir Edmund was also based on his humanitarianism and his values.
‘‘He cared; he set high benchmarks of citizenship for others; he made a big difference to many.
‘‘We New Zealanders saw Sir Edmund as one of us - from his craggy looks to his love of the outdoors, his sense of adventure and his concern for others.
‘‘Sir Edmund was our hero we admired and respected him; we saw in him the values we would want all our citizens to uphold.''
After the service, Lady Hillary and family members were due to have a private audience with the Queen, which normally includes a lavish tea.
Miss Clark was also due to have a separate meeting with the Queen, where it is expected she would discuss New Zealand's role in the Commonwealth.
The Queen's spokesman added: ‘‘She is Queen of New Zealand and pays a great deal of interest to what is happening to the country and its people.'