ROYALS

The Queen’s first Christmas without her beloved Prince Philip

Her Majesty is determined to carry on with family traditions.
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It will be her first Christmas without Prince Philip but the Queen is determined that the festive season this year will be back to normal for the rest of her family.

WATCH: The Queen arrives for the funeral Of Prince Philip

In 2020 she and her husband of 73 years were locked down alone at Windsor Castle as they shielded from the Covid pandemic.

Her Majesty raised morale with a typically calm and inspiring speech in which she hailed the “quiet, indomitable spirit” of people battling the crisis, and told them: “Even on the darkest nights there is hope in the new dawn.”

She sympathised with those “missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand.”

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It will be the Queen’s first Christmas without her husband. (Credit: Getty)

And she added: “If you are among them, you are not alone.”

Just four months later she was separated forever from her “strength and stay” for all those years as the Duke of Edinburgh died aged 99.

Who could forget the poignant image of the Queen sitting alone, wearing a mask and with just her handbag for company, at his scaled-down funeral?

But within weeks, as the vaccine rollout helped life return to some sort of normality, she was seen enjoying herself at social events such as Royal Ascot and the Windsor Horse Show, and clearly intended to make the most of her remaining years.

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Prince Philip’s presence will be sorely missed at the royal Christmas celebrations. (Credit: Getty)

A close friend of the monarch told me: “Before he died Prince Philip told the Queen to get on with life and not sit around mourning for him.

“They spent a lot of time together in lockdown and knew each other’s thoughts totally. He would have wanted her to make the most of it.”

During her annual summer stay at Balmoral in Scotland, the Queen insisted things returned to how they had been for decades.

Despite a member of staff testing positive for the virus, she and members of her family refused to wear masks and carried on their traditional pastimes, enjoying picnics, long walks and hunts.

WATCH: The Queen arrives for the funeral Of Prince Philip

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Now I’m told she wants the same for Christmas.

Last year, plans to spend the holiday at Sandringham as usual were thwarted when staff refused to quarantine, meaning their own family Christmases would be ruined.

“The intention is to return to Sandringham where they spent every Christmas between 1988 and 2019,” said one courtier.

“The Queen wants her extended family to stay in Norfolk, but of course a new Covid surge could change plans.

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“The intention is to return to Sandringham where they spent every Christmas between 1988 and 2019.” (Credit: Getty)

“No final decisions will be taken until nearer the time but she desperately wants to be back to the old traditions.”

With new babies for Zara Tindall, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, some royals will have to to sleep in the servants quarters.

But William and Kate are likely to come over to the big house from their nearby home Anmer Hall and take their brood back there at night, freeing up some spaces.

The Queen likes Christmas to be the same every year because it brings back happy childhood memories.

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The Queen likes Christmas to be the same every year because it brings back happy childhood memories. (Credit: Getty)

She arrives a couple of days before Christmas Eve and personally supervises the preparation of rooms for family guests.

In the White Drawing Room, servants decorate the Norfolk spruce, felled from the estate, with Queen Victoria’s antique angles and shiny baubles.

But the Queen always finishes it off with tinsel and a large star, just as her father George VI, who died at Sandringham in February, 1952, once did.

On Christmas Eve the entire family gathers to take tea at 4pm in the wood-panelled drawing room or “saloon.”

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The Queen arrives a couple of days before Christmas Eve and personally supervises the preparation of rooms for family guests. (Credit: Getty)

Sandwiches, home-baked scones, muffins and cakes are washed down with Earl Grey tea and a special blend of an Indian variety.

Everyone then retires to their rooms for a rest before returning at 6pm to open presents in the white drawing room.

The gifts are laid out on trestle tables, and, just as Queen Victoria began the German tradition of opening them on Christmas Eve, the Queen gives the signal and everyone dives in.

Her nephew the Earl of Snowdon has described this scene as “total uproar” with great shrieks of laughter greeting the unveilings.

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On Christmas Eve the entire family gathers to take tea at 4pm in the wood-panelled drawing room or “saloon.” (Credit: Getty)

While the children get expensive presents such as bikes, guns and fishing rods, the adults exchange joke worthless trinkets.

Prince Harry once gave the Queen a shower cap with “Ain’t life a bitch” written on it and one of Prince Charles’s favourites was a white plastic loo seat.

At 8pm everyone gathers for pre-dinner drinks and the Queen arrives at 8.15 for a dry martini.

The likes of Prince William and Mike Tindall will enjoy cider from the estate, while Prince Andrew doesn’t drink at all!

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The Queen and her sons in an image used in her Christmas Broadcast of 1971. (Credit: Getty)

Men dress in black tie and the ladies in gowns as a typical meal of Norfolk shrimps, lamb from the farm and a pudding of tarte tartin is served.

White wine is served with the starter, claret with the main course, and champagne with pudding.

The family all toast each other and this year “absent friends” will no doubt ring out as they remember Prince Philip, and also ruminate on Harry and Meghan’s departure to California.

It’s possible the pair will return for the gathering, but somehow I doubt it.

WATCH: The Queen appears in good spirits in new video

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The royals have their own bespoke crackers, with gold or silver crowns, containing the normal useless novelties and corny jokes. The Queen is the only person who doesn’t don her paper hat, but she does like reading out the one-liners.

At 95 she is likely to turn in early, while the younger royals are known to booze it up into the early hours.

The next morning the family walk to the nearby church of St Mary Magdalene for a service at 11am.

Her Majesty now goes by car, but the crowds who have been waiting for hours will try to have a chat with the new royal superstars, William and Kate’s children George, Charlotte and Louis.

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The next morning the family walk to the nearby church of St Mary Magdalene for a service at 11am. (Credit: Getty)

A brisk walk back in the cold air to the house is rewarded with a cocktail or some mulled wine in the grand cream and gold drawing room before lunch.

Scarlet liveried footmen serve a traditional lunch of turkey and all the trimmings using the Copeland white and blue dinner service bearing George V and Queen Mary’s monogram.

Servants leave the room while the family are eating and re-enter with the Christmas pudding flaming in brandy.

There is no hanging about and the entire meal is scoffed down in 90 minutes so that everyone can watch the Queen’s Christmas message on TV at 3pm.

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The Queen’s family attend church on Christmas. (Credit: Getty)

Prince Philip will be sorely missed at this point as he always toasted his wife and raised a glass of brandy to “Her Majesty the Queen.”

The evening meal is a much lighter event, and, on the orders of the Queen, Christmas pudding is nowhere to be seen.

Former royal chef Graham Newbould once told me: “The family are not keen on it or mince pies so so we produced lighter desserts like a chilled pina colada mousse with a raspberry coulis.

“A cold lobster salad topped with caviar was always a favourite starter.”

After helping themselves to cold “leftovers” from a buffet table, the television stays firmly off and the games begin!

The Queen always loves charades and is an excellent mimic, impersonating world leaders she has met like US Presidents and Tony Blair.

At her age, she is more likely to watch the younger royals take part, but she joins in as much as possible, her energy levels still extraordinary.

Breakfast on Boxing Day is a filling buffet of kedgeree, bacon and eggs, cereals and toast to set the men up for the traditional bird shoot.

Prince Charles will be joined by keen marksmen William, Andrew, Edward and Peter Phillips.

An early sign that Meghan Markle had changed Prince Harry for good came when she stayed at Sandringham and he refused to take part in the shoot because of her animal welfare concerns. Previously he had loved being a marksman.

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The Queen always loves charades and is an excellent mimic. (Credit: Getty)

Lunch is taken in a plain wooden hut adjoining Wood Farm, where Philip spent much time after retiring.

Even though he could no longer shoot because of a stent in his heart, he was always the life and soul, dispensing wit and wisdom as well as hot sausages, soup, salads and spirits to warm the party up.

The Queen often goes for a walk with her dogs on the beach at nearby Hunstanton, with Princess Anne or Sophie Wessex, and she has plenty to ponder on. The problems of Prince Andrew’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and the ongoing outbursts from exiled Harry and Meghan will not be going away soon.

She will make the best of it, soldier on and be surrounded by the love of her family.

And as she walks along the beach, with a headscarf fending off the North Sea wind, her thoughts will surely turn to Philip and how she wishes he was still with her.

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