By GREGORY KATZ, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II has a new sidekick for royal events: The Duchess of Cambridge.
The upcoming appearances with the queen mark another foray into the public eye for the former Kate Middleton, who is stepping up her royal duties while her husband Prince William is deployed as a helicopter search-and-rescue pilot in the remote Falkland Islands.
Buckingham Palace officials said Monday the duchess will join the queen and Prince Charles' wife Camilla on March 1 on a visit to a new restaurant at the luxury department store Fortnum and Mason. The royals are expected to have tea at the London landmark, known for its well-stocked food hall, and unveil a plaque commemorating efforts to renovate the Piccadilly Circus neighborhood.
The following week, the duchess will travel to the English city of Leicester with the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, as part of Diamond Jubilee celebrations to mark the queen's 60 years on the throne.
The duchess made her solo debut last week visiting a show of the late Lucian Freud's paintings in London.
The queen, 85, and Philip, 90, are planning an extensive tour of the United Kingdom during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, including visits to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Philip is expected to keep that schedule despite his heart scare, which required a stent over Christmas to keep his coronary arteries open.
They will not be traveling overseas as they did in earlier jubilees, but will send their children and grandchildren on official visits to many Commonwealth countries.
The festivities reach a climax in early June with a flotilla on the River Thames, a gala concert in front of Buckingham Palace and a carriage procession through the streets of London following a service of thanksgiving.
Many of the special Diamond Jubilee events — like the river pageant — are being paid for by charitable foundations set up to raise money for occasion. The cost of the Jubilee concert is being paid for by the BBC, which will also have licensing rights.
Officials said Monday that featured musicians — including former Beatle Paul McCartney and singer Elton John — are performing for free.
In addition, the government in 2010 set aside 1 million pounds ($1.58 million) in additional spending for Jubilee-related events even as it reduced or froze the royal budget in other areas.
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