The Queen chose the theme of “home” for a highly personal Christmas broadcast in which she paid tribute to victims and young survivors of the Manchester Arena bombing and those of the Grenfell Tower fire.
She highlighted how the “powerful identities” of London and Manchester “shone through over the past 12 months in the face of appalling attacks”. Her message was broadcast across Britain and the Commonwealth as the royal family welcomed the American actor Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancee, who became the first unmarried partner to be invited to Sandringham for Christmas, and was making her first public appearance with the royal family.
In her broadcast, the Queen spoke of the “privilege” of meeting child survivors and parents of the Manchester suicide bombing in which 23, including the attacker, died at an Ariana Grande concert. She praised the survivors as an “example to us all, showing extraordinary bravery and resilience”. The benefit concert held days later had been “a powerful reclaiming of the ground, and of the city those young people call home”.
In London, there were attacks at Westminster Bridge, in which five died, and Borough Market, where eight died. She asked: “Who can forget the sheer awfulness of the Grenfell Tower fire?” and spoke of those who died and those who lost so much as footage was shown of her and the Duke of Cambridge meeting emergency services workers close to the site of the fire that claimed 71 lives.
On the 60th anniversary of her first televised Christmas message, which was broadcast live from Sandringham, she also displayed a dry sense of humour in paying tribute to her 96-year-old consort, Prince Philip, and joked about the couple’s longevity.
As archive footage of the first televised broadcast was screened, showing the 31-year-old monarch talking about the medium of television, the Queen, now 91, observed: “Six decades on, the presenter has ‘evolved’ somewhat, as has the technology she described.”
The year had seen another, more personal, anniversary. “I don’t know that anyone had invented the term ‘platinum’ for a 70th wedding anniversary when I was born. You weren’t expected to be around that long,” she said. “Even Prince Philip has decided it’s time to slow down a little, having, as he economically put it, “done his bit”, she said of her husband’s decision to retire from solo public engagements. “But I know his support and unique sense of humour will remain as strong as ever, as we enjoy spending time this Christmas with our family and look forward to welcoming new members into it next year.”
Those words will be seen as a reference not just to the birth of the Duke and Duchess Cambridge’s third child, due in April, but also to the addition of Markle to the Windsor fold on 19 May with her marriage to Harry.
Having already successfully navigated “the walkabout” and the Buckingham Palace pre-Christmas royal lunch, Markle was undertaking her most critical challenge to date ahead of joining “the firm” by spending her first Christmas with the royals on the Queen’s 20,000 acre Norfolk estate.
Several hundred well-wishers had queued from dawn outside the gates of Sandringham to see the actor, best known for her role in the US legal drama Suits, join other senior members of the family for their traditional Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene’s church on the estate. Wearing a light brown coat, brown hat, boots and bag, she walked arm-in-arm with Harry as they made the short distance from Sandringham House to the church.
It is the first time future sisters-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge and Markle, have been photographed in public together. While the Queen arrived by car at the church, a sprightly Philip decided to walk with other family members.
Markle is the only unmarried partner to have been invited to spend Christmas at Sandringham, and the Queen’s approval of the match was further evidenced by the prominence during the speech of a framed photograph of Harry and his fiancee on a table, as were other family photographs, including of the Queen and Philip on their wedding day.
Harry, his future bride, and other royals stopped to chat to well-wishers on their walk back to Sandringham House following the church service. Several Americans from nearby RAF Lakenheath had made the journey to see the family, including one couple from Texas for whom the wait provided an opportunity for Michael Metz to propose to girl friend Ashley Millican, who accepted.
Markle demonstrated she had perfected one important royal skill when both she and the Duchess of Cambridge curtsied to the Queen as the monarch left the church to return to Sandringham House by car . The actor’s coat was by Canadian brand Sentaler, and made from baby alpaca wool selling for £986 , while her leather Chloe pixie bag, sells for £ 1,400.
The royal family traditionally gather in front of the television after Christmas lunch to watch the broadcast. Produced this year by Sky News, it included a video montage of senior royals, including Philip doffing his bowler hat during his final solo engagement at Buckingham Palace.
The message ended as it had begun with a performance by the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and choir, and the Queen’s closing words, reflecting her faith: “It is Jesus Christ’s generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad.”