The Queen has used her Christmas message to urge a nation divided by Brexit to reconcile, but also added a personal touch by admitting it has been a ‘busy year’ for her and her family.
Sitting at her desk in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, the Queen reflected on a year which has seen two of her grandchildren – Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie – get married, and two others – Prince William and Zara Tindall – welcome new babies.
Prince Harry is also expecting his first child with Meghan Markle next Spring, and the Queen joked that her role as a grandmother and great-grandmother kept her ‘well occupied’ throughout 2018.
As head of state, the Queen remains publicly neutral when it comes to political matters and does not express her views on issues.
The Queen gave her Christmas Day message, in which she preached a message of conciliation to the nation, in the White Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace
But the 92-year-old Monarch appeared to strongly allude to the tense and bitter political atmosphere that surrounds contentious issues such as Brexit, by urging that ‘even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding’.
Speaking about the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story, she said: ‘I believe his message of peace on Earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone; it’s needed as much as ever.’
She also highlighted the darker side of life, how religious faith, which can lead people to do good in the service of others, can also bitterly divide them.
She said: ‘Some cultures believe a long life brings wisdom. I’d like to think so.
‘Perhaps part of that wisdom is to recognise some of life’s baffling paradoxes, such as the way human beings have a huge propensity for good, and yet a capacity for evil.
‘Even the power of faith, which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice, can fall victim to tribalism.’
This picture from April 26, 1949, showing a 23-year-old then-Princess Elizabeth with the Duke of Edinburgh and a baby Prince Charles, was on the Queen’s desk during the broadcast
With a Christmas tree behind her and plenty of family photos visible, she also described the importance of having loved ones around her. Now aged 92, the Queen’s reign as monarch has lasted 66 years and she has been married to the Duke of Edinburgh for more than seven decades.
‘Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance,’ she said.
A 1949 photograph showing the Queen and Prince Philip with a six-month-old Prince Charles stands prominently on her desk, a reminder that the Prince of Wales celebrated his 70th birthday last month.
But the Monarch also offered words of comfort for those missing relatives or friends: ‘At Christmas, we become keenly aware of loved ones who have died, whatever the circumstances.
‘But, of course, we would not grieve if we did not love.’
The Queen took the opportunity to reflect on George VI in his role not only as her father but in the early years of the Commonwealth and his service in the Royal Navy during the First World War.
The Queen delivered her annual Christmas message surrounded by photographs of her family, with a Christmas tree behind her and as well as an eye-catching gilded piano, made for Queen Victoria in 1856
And she thanked current members of the armed forces, many of whom will be deployed overseas at Christmas, for their efforts.
After footage was shown of a ‘thrilling’ RAF fly-past, celebrating the air force’s centenary by forming the number ‘100’, the Queen aid: ‘We owe them and all our armed services our deepest gratitude.’
She also acknowledged the sacrifices of the thousands of seamen who died fighting in the First World War Battle of Jutland in 1916 during which her father served as a midshipman.
She said: ‘The British fleet lost 14 ships and 6,000 men in that engagement. My father wrote in a letter: ‘How and why we were not hit beats me’. Like others, he lost friends in the war.’
Footage of Harry and Meghan’s glittering wedding was featured in the broadcast alongside Eugenie and Jack’s nuptials, and also the moments when the couples kissed on the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The duke and duchess’s carriage ride was also screened.
The first of the two royal babies to arrive this year was Louis, and there was a clip of his proud parents, William and Kate, presenting him to the world outside the private Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where he was born on April 23.
And in June, Zara and husband Mike Tindall, a former England rugby player, welcomed their second child – a daughter called Lena.
‘We have had other celebrations too, including the 70th birthday of the Prince of Wales,’ said the Queen as the camera panned to a framed picture on her desk, an official image released to mark Charles’s milestone and featuring his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, along with the Cambridges and their children, and the Sussexes.
They included William and Kate’s Christmas card image featuring themselves and their children, a picture from Eugenie’s wedding showing the bride and groom surrounded by their bridesmaids and pageboys, a black and white image from Harry and Meghan’s big day, and a picture of George VI.
The Queen hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April and she noted that eight states attended the first such gathering in 1948 and were welcomed by her father.
She added that today the Commonwealth consists of 53 member countries with a combined population of 2.4 billion.
She said: ‘Its strength lies in the bonds of affection it promotes, and a common desire to live in a better, more peaceful world.
The broadcast was recorded on December 12 and produced this year by Sky News.
The Queen concluded her broadcast by wishing everyone a ‘very happy Christmas.’
With Parliament fundamentally divided over the way forward with Brexit and military conflicts still raging in parts of the world, the monarch’s words are likely to resonate with many.
The broadcast ended as it had begun, with singing from the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, famous, as the Queen said, for its Nine Lessons and Carols.
They opened the festive broadcast by singing the National Anthem and ended with the carol Once In Royal David’s City.
The Queen wore a silk and lace cocktail dress by Angela Kelly, and a gold, ruby and diamond brooch – a present from her husband Prince Philip in 1966.
An eye-catching gilded piano, made for Queen Victoria in 1856, stood behind the Queen’s desk.
The Queen’s 2018 Christmas message in full
‘For many, the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, is when Christmas begins. Listened to by millions of people around the world, it starts with a chorister singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.
‘The priest who introduced this service to King’s College chapel, exactly one hundred years ago, was Eric Milner-White. He had served as a military chaplain in the First World War. Just six weeks after the Armistice, he wanted a new kind of service which, with its message of peace and goodwill, spoke to the needs of the times.
‘Twenty eighteen has been a year of centenaries. The Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary with a memorable fly-past demonstrating a thrilling unity of purpose and execution. We owe them and all our Armed Services our deepest gratitude.
‘My father served in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He was a midshipman in HMS Collingwood at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The British fleet lost 14 ships and 6,000 men in that engagement. My father wrote in a letter: ‘How and why we were not hit beats me’. Like others, he lost friends in the war.
‘At Christmas, we become keenly aware of loved ones who have died, whatever the circumstances. But, of course, we would not grieve if we did not love.
‘Closer to home, it’s been a busy year for my family, with two weddings and two babies, and another child expected soon. It helps to keep a grandmother well occupied. We have had other celebrations too, including the 70th birthday of The Prince of Wales.
‘Some cultures believe a long life brings wisdom. I’d like to think so. Perhaps part of that wisdom is to recognise some of life’s baffling paradoxes, such as the way human beings have a huge propensity for good, and yet a capacity for evil. Even the power of faith, which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice, can fall victim to tribalism.
‘But through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance.
‘In April, the Commonwealth Heads of Government met in London. My father welcomed just eight countries to the first such meeting in 1948. Now the Commonwealth includes 53 countries with 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population.
‘Its strength lies in the bonds of affection it promotes, and a common desire to live in a better, more peaceful world. Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.
‘Indeed, the Commonwealth Games, held this year on Australia’s Gold Coast, are known universally as the Friendly Games because of their emphasis on goodwill and mutual respect.
‘The Christmas story retains its appeal since it doesn’t provide theoretical explanations for the puzzles of life. Instead it’s about the birth of a child and the hope that birth 2,000 years ago brought to the world. Only a few people acknowledged Jesus when he was born. Now billions follow him.
‘I believe his message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone; it’s needed as much as ever.
‘A very happy Christmas to you all.’
The History of the Queen’s Speech
The Queen’s Christmas broadcast is a traditional feature of the festive season where the head of state can express her thoughts about the past year.
The monarch made her first Christmas broadcast live on the radio in 1952 – the year of her accession – and the annual message was first shown on TV in 1957.
She has made a Christmas Day speech every year except in 1969, when she decided the royals had been on TV enough after an unprecedented family documentary.
Instead, her greeting took the form of a written address.
The first televised broadcast was transmitted live from the Long Library at Sandringham, and the Queen told how she hoped ‘this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and more direct’.
The Queen’s first pre-recorded speech was in 1959.
The monarch – a consummate professional – usually completes her delivery in one take.
But footage from an ITV documentary earlier this year revealed that that her 2017 speech had to be re-recorded after a chirruping bird outside the palace window interrupted the proceedings.
In her 1991 message, the Queen silenced rumours of abdication as she pledged to continue to serve.
She also issued a writ against The Sun newspaper after it published the full text of her 1992 broadcast two days before transmission.
She later accepted an apology and a £200,000 donation to charity.
The Queen’s grandfather, King George V, delivered the first royal Christmas broadcast live on the radio from Sandringham in 1932.
He read a message composed by author Rudyard Kipling.
Her Majesty The Queen speaks to the nation and Commonwealth in her traditional Christmas address in 1991
The original idea was suggested by Sir John Reith, the founding father of the BBC, to inaugurate the Empire Service, now the BBC World Service.
George V was at first unsure about using the relatively untried medium of the wireless, but eventually agreed.
The fixed time of 3pm each year was chosen in 1932 because it was considered the best for reaching most of the countries in the British Empire by short wave.
King George V’s eldest son, who became King Edward VIII, never delivered a Christmas speech, as his reign lasted less than a year, ending in abdication.
King George VI, the Queen’s father and Edward’s brother, made his first broadcast in December 1937 in which he thanked the nation for their support during the first year of his reign.
There was no Christmas broadcast in 1936 or 1938, and it was the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 that firmly established the tradition.
The speech is written by the Queen herself and is one of the rare occasions when she does not turn to the Government for advice and is able to voice her own views.
Each message has a strong religious framework and reflects current issues.
She chooses a theme, drawing sometimes on her own personal experiences and sometimes from global events such as wars, terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
In 2003, the Queen recorded her annual Christmas message entirely on location, away from a royal residence, for the first time.
With a military backdrop of armoured fighting vehicles at Combermere Barracks in Windsor, she paid tribute to British servicemen and women who had fought in the Iraq war.
The Queen sometimes watches her own speech alone on Christmas Day.
The Duke of York revealed the monarch can prefer to leave the room to scrutinise her work as the rest of the royal family gather around the television together at Sandringham on December 25.
Andrew recalled: ‘I do remember that sometimes the Queen watches it and sometimes sits in another room thinking ‘Has it come across in the right way?”
He added: ‘As children we were always encouraged after lunch to behave ourselves and wait for the Queen’s message, because lunch would usually finish within one or 15 minutes of quarter to three, and three o’clock is the time we all sit down and watch it.’
The duke spoke of how other members of the royal family have taken part in the broadcast over the years.
‘I think all of us have taken part in it in one form or another over the years,’ he said.
During the Falklands War when the duke served as a helicopter pilot, Andrew and his fellow servicemen were the focus of the Queen’s 1982 message.
‘The fact that the Queen, their Commander in Chief, had a concern and was thinking about what they’re doing, and as it were, was with them for those few minutes, gives you a tremendous buzz and a feel that ‘Oh we’ve been mentioned, we’ve been thought about’,’ he told ITV.