The Queen’s Speech: what will Her Majesty say about 2020?

Like 16 million Britons, the Queen in Windsor Castle has been placed in Tier 4 this week.

Like them, Her Majesty will feel the distress of a cancelled Christmas. First, she had to cancel the traditional Sandringham Christmas. And now, it Christmas visits to her by Prince Charles and the Cambridges have been reportedly cancelled.

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With Brexit hanging on a cliff-edge, the Queen decided to delay filming her message – a rare occasion.

Since 1959, the message has been recorded (she did it live before then). Lately, it is filmed in early December. But this year it was pushed back until the last moment as Her Majesty waited – along with the country at large – for news of Brexit deal.

More than anyone else, the Queen knows that “events, dear boy” (as prime ministerHarold Macmillan, famously put it) can interfere with the best-laid plans.

In 2017, she had to re-record the message when birdsong ruined the soundtrack. Her Majesty – who prides herself on her ability to do her pieces to camera without retakes – remarked sternly to the director: “I’ve got to do the whole thing again?”, before chuckling at the oddness of being upstaged by a bird. Every detail of her annual broadcast is closely studied by the press. Last year, the absence of a photograph of the Sussexes on the desk caused great comment. And rightly so – only a few days later, Harry and Meghan announced their plan to move to LA.

In her message, the Queen made no direct comment about it, nor Prince Andrew’s disastrous involvement with Jeffrey Epstein, but she did refer to 2019 as having been “quite bumpy”.

In comments that were thought to address her subjects’ ongoing differences over Brexit, she also said: “Small steps […] can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.”

In the run-up to Christmas in recent years, the Queen has also had to deal with Prince Philip, who will turn 100 next year, being admitted to hospital.

In 2011, he was taken to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on December 23, after suffering chest pains from a blocked coronary artery; it was treated with stenting. The operation came too late to be included in the Queen’s broadcast.

Last December, Philip spent four nights in King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, for treatment for a pre-existing condition. He was flown to Sandringham on Christmas Eve. Again, the incident came too late for the Queen to mention it in her broadcast.

In any case, she is, in her phlegmatic way, unlikely to dwell for long on personal troubles in the message, except at extreme times: in 1997, she referred to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales; in 2002, she mourned the deaths of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother.

In 1992, her annus horribilis, her message came a month after the fire that destroyed part of Windsor Castle. It was also the year Prince Charles separated from Diana, Princess Anne divorced, and Sarah Ferguson was pictured in the infamous toe-sucking incident with Texan millionaire John Bryan. In her message, the Queen referred to “difficult days” and “a sombre year”, and thanked the public for their prayers.

On the personal front, Her Majesty is generally more likely to concentrate on the year’s good news. In 1984, the Christmas Message was edited at the last minute to include a lengthy segment of original footage of Harry’s christening, which took place on December 21, in the private chapel at Windsor Castle – where his own son Archie was christened last year.

Two-year-old Prince William is the star of the show in the footage, racing round the legs of Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who christened Harry. The Queen introduces Prince William to Dash, her new puppy, and chats happily to Zara Phillips, her granddaughter, who’s worried that Dash might bite her. Also in the footage are the Queen Mother and Prince Harry’s godmother, Lady Vestey, who sadly died this year.

It was easier to take in recent events in the early days of the Christmas Message, when it was live. So, in 1953, the year of the Coronation, the Queen broadcast her radio message from Auckland, New Zealand, during her six-month tour of the Commonwealth with Philip. She finished the broadcast with a message of sympathy for those who’d been struck by the Tangiwai disaster, which happened the night before, when a bridge collapsed under a train, killing 151.

In 1956, the message was broadcast live, with the Queen speaking over the radio from Sandringham. That year, the Duke of Edinburgh joined her in giving a broadcast, from Britannia, the royal yacht, on which he was on another Commonwealth tour.

The message was televised for the first time in 1957, 25 years after the Christmas tradition was begun in 1932 by George V, the Queen’s grandfather. The advantage of it being pre-recorded meant, in an era before satellite communication, it could be transported to even the furthest-flung British territories, notably Australia and New Zealand, for broadcast on Christmas Day. But, even with pre-recording, there have been blips in normal service.

In 1963, the Queen decided to go back to a radio broadcast and stay off television, because she was pregnant with Prince Edward. In 1969, she preferred not to appear on either radio or television. She thought the Royal family had been on TV too much that year, thanks to Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales and the documentary, Royal Family. Instead, she wrote a message referring to Neil Armstrong becoming, that year, the first person to walk on the Moon.

But so concerned were members of the public by the absence of a message that the Queen issued a statement, assuring the public it would return in 1970. In recent years, the message has been recorded too early in December to include such horrors as the Harrods bombing on December 17, 1983.

However, following the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988, Her Majesty issued an “addendum” to her message: “Since I made that recording this year, we have all been shocked and distressed by a series of major disasters: here in Britain, the worst air crash in our history at Lockerbie and a serious train accident at Clapham; and in Armenia, a terrible earthquake.” The unpredictability of such terrible events is one reason why the Queen has to adopt such a measured, careful tone – a joyous tone might jar in the face of agony and disaster.

With the mutated virus and the new Tier 4 restrictions, this Christmas will be harder than any since the war. Still, there is deep consolation in the reassuring presence of the Queen talking to us after Christmas lunch, as she has done so upliftingly since 1952.

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