Operation Save the Queen’s Christmas: Palace tells of Her Majesty’s ‘strong desire’ to host her family as Prince Charles makes secret trips to prepare Sandringham… but the monarch, 95, is unlikely to attend the church service
- Palace sources said the Queen has a ‘strong desire’ to host her family over the Christmas period despite Covid
- Prince Charles has made secret trips to Sandringham, north Norfolk, to prepare the residence for the family
- But it is thought the 95-year-old monarch will be unlikely to attend the traditional Christmas church service
The Royal Family is to rally round the Queen (pictured at the traditional Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene in 2019) this week as those closest to the Monarch have vowed that she won’t be alone for her first Christmas without the Duke of Edinburgh
The Royal Family is to rally round the Queen this week as those closest to the Monarch have vowed that she won’t be alone for her first Christmas without the Duke of Edinburgh.
Although it remains unclear what form the Royal festivities will take, or where, a source said there was ‘a strong desire’ from the Queen to gather her family together at Sandringham if possible.
A Palace insider said: ‘It would be such a bitter blow to the Queen not to have Christmas at Sandringham so there’s an operation underway to try to make sure it’s a special time of year. Sandringham is such a special place to Her Majesty.’
This, however, is not a normal year and a source confirmed that the Queen’s Christmas plans are under review. ‘There is a strong desire for it to be as normal as it can be but obviously this is subject to practical concerns,’ a palace source said.
The Mail on Sunday understands, for example, that it is unlikely the 95-year-old Monarch will join the 200-strong congregation at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham for the traditional Christmas Day service. Instead, she is expected to attend a private service similar to last year when a Royal chaplain delivered a sermon and readings.
But there are alternative plans in place. Should the risk of Omicron be considered too great for the Queen, who has recently suffered a bout of ill- health, then a scaled-back celebration could be held at Windsor Castle.
Unlike last year, however, when the Queen was in lockdown with Prince Philip and HMS Bubble – the name given to their loyal team of staff – she would receive visits from members of the family.
A source said: ‘It will all depend on what the guidance is and what the Queen wants to do.’
While the Queen has been forced to pull out of several engagements over the past two months – including a visit to Northern Ireland – she has been well enough to carry out her duties as head of state.
Last week, she was seen taking part in video calls and a Palace source confirmed she had been walking unaided in London to honour a diary commitment after travelling to the capital from Windsor.
Although it remains unclear what form the Royal festivities will take, or where, a source said there was ‘a strong desire’ from the Queen to gather her family together at Sandringham if possible
Changes to the Palace schedule, often schemed out months in advance, are never undertaken lightly, however. And behind the scenes everything is being done to help the Queen save the family’s Sandringham Christmas.
‘Sandringham is special not only because of all the fond memories of Prince Philip and the hard work he did to transform the estate,’ said the insider, ‘But also because it’s the very place where her father passed away.
‘It’s the reason why, normally, she will never leave Sandringham after the Christmas break until she has marked his anniversary on February 6.’
It will be a particularly poignant date, for next year marks the 70th anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI – and the point at which the Queen will have been on the throne for seven decades. The Platinum Jubilee celebrations will be yet another milestone for the Queen who in 2015 surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria to become the longest-reigning British Monarch.
A source said: ‘There is no better place to mark it than at Sandringham. It may be windswept and desolate but it is a place that holds so many memories for the Queen and has a special place in her heart. In some ways, I expect it will be a way of keeping Philip close.’
There are other reasons, too, why members of her family will make a special effort.
Quite aside from the frustrations of the latest Covid variant, increasingly strained family relations will ensure that this Christmas is a particularly tense time.
Prince Andrew is fighting back against claims of sexual abuse in a US court case which will be heard in the first week of January. The toxic allegations against him are bound to cast a shadow over the rest of the Royal family.
Changes to the Palace schedule, often schemed out months in advance, are never undertaken lightly, however. And behind the scenes everything is being done to help the Queen save the family’s Sandringham Christmas
Smiling broadly, his pose relaxed, the Duke of Edinburgh jokes with the crew of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
This never-before-seen photograph was taken on Christmas Day 1956, thousands of miles from home in the southern seas as the Queen prepared to make her annual festive broadcast to the nation back at Sandringham.
The informal camaraderie of the Duke’s ship is clear to see. Decks are strewn with colourful streamers and a balloon is decorated with the message ‘A Happy Christmas, “Dukie” ’.
And the image, which features in a new ITV documentary about the late Duke, is a poignant throwback to the last time the Queen spent Christmas alone.
The Duke had called the Queen by radio from Britannia, and in her speech she said: ‘Of all the voices we have heard this afternoon none has given my children and myself greater joy than that of my husband.’
Sixty-five years later, as the Queen prepares for her first Christmas since his death, she will no doubt miss that voice even more.
Speaking to ITV, the Duke’s friend Martin Palmer, who co-founded the charity Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) with him, said: ‘When they heard the news in 1952 that the King had died, I think his world collapsed. His natural place of service, the Navy, was no longer possible.
‘It was a huge shock; he was a bit lost. In 1956 when he was asked – and joyfully accepted the invitation – to travel… that’s when he found himself again.’
The ITV documentary is described as a bid to put the Duke’s voice and thoughts front and centre, using 80 years of rare footage and material.
Philip: Prince, Husband, Father is on ITV at 9pm on December 21.
Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are thought to have been invited to join the rest of the family.
But they are not expected to attend, following a year in which Prince Harry and Meghan are felt to have lobbed a series of grenades at the family on primetime television.
Furthermore, Harry’s tell-all biography is due to be published next year which, if his previous interventions are anything to go by, could make uncomfortable reading for his relatives.
The Prince of Wales, himself, has faced difficult questions about the running of his charitable foundation and recently lost his right-hand man Michael Fawcett, who was forced to resign amid claims that honours were offered to wealthy foreign donors.
Perhaps with this in mind, the Prince of Wales has thrown himself into his duties.
The MoS understands Charles has made a series of private visits to Sandringham in order to continue the work of his late father.
Last month, he oversaw the expansion of work already underway on the Sandringham farm.
The Duke of Edinburgh gave his permission three years ago for Charles to take it organic and his plans will see the farm expand still further.
Charles has given up the lease on the organic farm at his Gloucestershire bolthole of Highgrove and turned his attention to Sandringham in what many will consider a sign of his growing preparations for Kingship. With the help of Edward Parsons, Sandringham’s Land Agent, Charles has spent three years overhauling the area by planting hedgerows and establishing an organic flock of 3,000 sheep and a 500-strong cattle herd.
While the animals seem to be thriving, Charles faces a far bigger challenge this Christmas – organising the people.
It is understood that Charles has also been involved in organising the preparations for the family Christmas at Sandringham, which has recently lost several members of staff.
Charles is expected to lead the Boxing Day shoot, a role previously held by Prince Philip.
A source close to the family said: ‘Everyone will be asked to take a [Covid] test beforehand. Unless there are new restrictions brought into effect or it is deemed too unsafe for the Queen, Christmas won’t be cancelled if it can be helped.’
Yet there have been happy additions to the family this year, too.
The Queen will hope to spend time with her latest great-grandchildren – Beatrice and husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi’s two-month-old daughter Sienna, Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s ten-month-old son August and Zara and Mike Tindall’s third child, nine-month-old Lucas.
William and Kate will stay at their home at Anmer Hall, which is a short walk away.
One insider said it ‘was quite possible’ that Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, will come up to stay and may be granted an audience with the Queen. William recently spoke of his fond memories of a Royal Christmas at Sandringham and the walk from St Mary Magdalene chapel with his grandfather, Prince Philip. ‘
He used to walk so fast that there’d be huge gaps and spaces between all of us walking down, and there’d be us at the back with little legs trying to keep up,’ said William. ‘You start to feel quite attached to those moments and those memories.’
For the Queen, and those closest to her, such memories are all the more precious. As one source close to the family put it: ‘I hope it can all be worked out. Like any family, none of us knows how many Christmases we have left.’
The MoS understands Charles (pictured with Camilla on November 28 has made a series of private visits to Sandringham in order to continue the work of his late father. Last month, he oversaw the expansion of work already underway on the Sandringham farm
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