The Queen will reflect on the ‘bumpy’ year endured by both the Royal Family and the nation in her Christmas broadcast tomorrow.
Addressing a turbulent 12 months in which Prince Andrew was forced to step down from public duties, she will say ‘small steps’ can overcome difficulties and division.
Her annual broadcast will be directed mainly at national issues in a year dominated by Brexit and a general election. But royal sources said it would also cover problems in her own family.
Prince Philip faced a police probe over a car crash, Prince Harry acknowledged tensions in his relationship with his elder brother William, and Harry’s wife Meghan admitted she was struggling with her new life as a royal.
But the biggest ‘bump’ faced by the Royal Family was the fallout from the Duke of York’s disastrous Newsnight interview about his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
2019, A SLIMMED-DOWN ROYAL FAMILY: A picture of Prince Philip with one of Charles and Camilla, the Cambridges’ Christmas card picture and her father George VI
Andrew, 59, is expected to watch his mother’s televised broadcast to the nation with the rest of the family at Sandringham tomorrow.
She will say: ‘Small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.
‘The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.’
The comments are believed to be her first public reference to the turmoil faced by her family this year.
She dubbed 1992 an ‘annus horribilis’ in a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession.
In that year Charles separated from Princess Diana, Andrew split from his wife Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Phillips, and a fire engulfed Windsor Castle.
2018, JOY FOR CHARLES: With Charles turning 70 on November 14, there was a baby picture, one of Philip and one with Camilla, his children and grandchildren
2017, MARRIAGE MILESTONE: The Queen and Philip’s 70th anniversary was celebrated with a picture from 1947, one from the present and portraits of great-grandchildren Charlotte and George
Andrew stepped back from public life following November’s ‘car crash’ BBC interview in which he attempted to explain his friendship with Epstein.
He repeatedly denied claims that he had sex with one of the disgraced financier’s victims, Virginia Roberts, when she was just 17. Miss Roberts then accused him of lying.
The Queen’s second son also faced calls to speak to the FBI about his relationship with Epstein, who was found dead in his prison cell in August awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Andrew was effectively sacked by his mother after his older brother Charles warned her that the scandal threatened to engulf the monarchy. He is expected to join the family at church tomorrow but may choose to sit with the Queen as she is driven to the service instead of joining the rest of the family as they walk and greet wellwishers.
2015, HAPPY FAMILIES: Princess Charlotte was born, Charles and Camilla celebrated their tenth anniversary and the Queen and Prince Philip were as close as ever
For the first time Prince George and Princess Charlotte may accompany their parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is thought that at six and four they are now old enough to sit through the service.
Their younger brother, Prince Louis, 19 months, will stay at Sandringham with his nanny, Maria Borrallo.
Royal sources say William and Kate will make a final decision, in conjunction with the Queen, on whether to bring the children when they wake up tomorrow morning.
Harry and Meghan will not be at Sandringham, but will spend their first Christmas with baby Archie with Meghan’s mother Doria in Canada, as revealed last Saturday by the Mail.
2002, YEAR OF FAREWELLS: The Queen in front of pictures of her mother, who died in March, father George VI, who died in 1952, and sister Margaret, who died in February
The couple also missed the Queen’s pre-Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace. Harry and William split their households earlier this year following reports of a rift between them.
In a TV documentary, Harry said his relationship with his elder brother had ‘good days and bad days’, and they were ‘on different paths’.
Prince Philip may also be absent from the Sandringham celebrations. He remained in hospital in London for a fourth night last night after being admitted last week.
On a visit to a flood-hit village in South Yorkshire yesterday, Charles was asked how his father was and replied: ‘All right. When you get to that age things don’t work so well.’
This year’s is the Queen’s most painful message yet – and every picture you can see in the background tells the story of why
Richard Kay, Editor at large for The Daily Mail
For many millions, it is as integral a part of Christmas Day as roast turkey, mince pies and exchanging presents.
Tomorrow, families all over Britain will gather around the television at 3pm to watch the Queen’s annual message.
It is always one of the most watched programmes on TV and this year, with Her Majesty’s acknowledgement of the ‘bumpy’ path the Royal Family and the nation has experienced in the past 12 months, it is likely to be more compelling viewing than ever.
After so many broadcasts the Queen, of course, is comfortably familiar in front of the camera, but even so this year she will quite possibly deliver her most difficult, her most painful and perhaps, from the monarchy’s point of view, her most crucial Christmas message ever.
Viewers will search for obvious clues in her words about the family crises that have rocked the royals, from Prince Andrew’s catastrophic television interview about his friendship with a convicted sex offender to Prince Harry and Meghan’s struggles with living in the royal spotlight, and ongoing worries over Prince Philip, who has spent the past four days in hospital.
Speaking about the difficulties of the last year in which Andrew had to step back from public duties, she will acknowledge the importance of ‘small steps’ in overcoming problems.
Her words will be addressed primarily to the country as a whole following a year of political turmoil over the election and Brexit, but royal sources say they will also speak to the problems in her own family.
The comments – albeit thinly-veiled – are nonetheless her first public reference to the personal turmoil endured by her family this year.
As well as Andrew, Philip faced a police investigation over a car crash which injured two women, while Prince Harry admitted to tensions in his relationship with his older brother William. Inevitably they will be compared with another difficult domestic year for the Queen – 1992, which she dubbed her ‘annus horribilis’.
That was the year of three royal marriage break-ups – including Charles and Diana – as well as the Windsor Castle fire and the public row over who would pay for the repairs.
But on that occasion she used another speech marking her 40th anniversary as monarch to speak out. Her Christmas message, however, referred only to the fact that her family had ‘lived through some difficult days this year’.
With her references to a path which ‘is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference’, observers believe she may also have been drawing on a verse quoted by her father for his Christmas message exactly 80 years ago.
In December 1939 Britain had just embarked on a world war and no one knew the outcome. King George VI quoted Minnie Louise Haskins poem God Knows, which tells of a man who wishes to ‘tread safely into the unknown’.
It was also used at the Queen Mother’s funeral.
But every year the Queen also goes beyond her mere address to convey a broader message through the careful curating of family photographs strategically placed on the desk at her side or on tables close at hand.
Their purpose, however, does not change – to indicate her thoughts on things which have special meaning. This year is no exception. So what does this year’s picture – a still from the broadcast – tell us about the family, and more pertinently about the monarchy?
It was taken last week at Windsor Castle in the green drawing room where cameras had been set up to record the annual message.
Context is important. It was after the election but before the Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London to be treated for a pre-existing but undisclosed condition.
The fact is the Queen does regularly change the family photographs that adorn her desk, but unquestionably there is a special significance in the ones that appear – as well as the ones that do not – for the recording of the Christmas broadcast.
This year it is noticeable that there is no picture of the newest addition to the Royal Family, Prince Harry’s son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in the line of succession to the throne and the Queen’s eighth great grandchild.
Instead, aside from Philip in the background, the pictures focus on the immediate line of succession, namely her father King George VI, her son the Prince of Wales and the heirs in line Prince William and Prince George.
In many ways the photographs chosen represent the enduring strength and continuity of the monarchy and are a signal that the Royal Family are here for the good times as well as the bad. King George in naval uniform is pictured making an address to the nation in 1944 with the Second World War at its most critical juncture, while William and his family are picture perfect in the summer sunshine of 2019.
They are also a snapshot of the past and the future – a King Emperor who came to the throne in 1936, a Queen who has reigned for almost 68 years and three princes-in-waiting who, with good fortune, should ensure the stability of the kingdom until at least the end of the 21st century.
Charles, who is photographed with Camilla, is also given pride of place to mark the 50th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales. There may be, however, another meaning in the photographic arrangement.
Might the Queen be demonstrating a subtle nod to her son’s wishes for a smaller, slimmed-down monarchy which Charles believes will make it more relevant and more resilient?
In the past the Queen has seemed indifferent to such ideas, pointing to the devotion to public service of the minor royals such as the Gloucesters and the Kents. But the issue suddenly seems to have been strengthened this Christmas in the wake of Prince Andrew and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
Intriguingly, just out of shot is a picture of the Queen with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, who became the first men on the moon in 1969 – the only year the Queen did not deliver a Christmas broadcast. (Following the Prince of Wales’ investiture and the documentary The Royal Family, it was felt there had been a surfeit of royalty on TV that year.)
So what are the secret photographic props the Queen has used in previous December 25 messages?
Last year, to mark the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday the closest pictures to hand were of her and Philip holding their infant son and another of grandfather Charles posing with both his sons, their wives and grandchildren.
A side table was decorated with wedding pictures of Harry and Meghan, and of Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, who all married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2018.
A year further back, 2017, and Philip is foremost in the Queen’s thoughts. It was the year of their 70th wedding anniversary and there is a picture of their November 20, 1947, wedding day and another touching portrait to mark the anniversary.
In the foreground, however, are pictures of George and Princess Charlotte. I am told that they were positioned by the TV production team recording the Christmas film.
‘From time to time the producers have their own ideas of which royals they also want in the shot and the Queen is always happy to go along with it,’ says a courtier.
More pictures of her loved ones surround the Queen during her 2015 message. Centre stage is a wedding-day snap of Charles and Camilla to mark their tenth wedding anniversary.
It has special memories for the Queen – she didn’t attend the marriage ceremony in Windsor Guildhall, but she spoke warmly at their reception and it marked the end of a painful episode for the royals.
Nearby are William, Kate and George together with six-month-old Charlotte, the new addition to the family. But the Queen’s desk is dominated with a favourite picture of her and Philip. Smiling and relaxed in headscarf and cap as they lean on sticks, it is how THEY see each other.
Sometimes the pictures are placed to reinforce a central part of the Christmas message. This was especially so in 2002, a year in which the Queen lost both her mother and sister.
At her side are a young Princess Margaret, who died aged 71, and another of the Queen Mother – who was 101 when she passed away – as a young woman, King George beside her.
The installation was a poignant reminder of the phrase the King used to describe his ideal family unit – ‘we four’ he referred to them as. The Queen is the only survivor of that loving little group
So remember when you sit down to watch the Queen tomorrow, every picture tells a story.