The highs and rather memorable lows of a royal year
Lindy McDowell looks back at the Windsors’ most memorable moments of 2019
On Christmas Day when Her Majesty the Queen sat down with her extended family for dinner at Sandringham (on the menu, lobster salad followed by turkey, apparently) the atmosphere around the table may not have been quite so jolly as the season normally dictates.
It would be fair to say that 2019 has not been a cracker for the Royal Family.
It's been a year of controversy and scandal - mostly ducal-related.
The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a car crash - one which could have been so much worse.
The Duke of York was involved in a car crash television interview - one which couldn't have been worse.
The Duke of Sussex spent most of the year huffing at the Press who'd raised valid questions about his and his wife's free-spending, private-jetting, preachy lifestyle.
In the course of yet another ill-advised TV interview (step away from the microphones, your Highnesses) Harry also confirmed a rift between himself and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge.
The year has ended with the Duke of York being "sacked" by his own mother over the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and the still unanswered questions about his relationship with the notorious convicted paedophile.
So celebrations chez Sandringham may have been a little more muted this year. You can just imagine the scene...
The Queen watching sadly as her guests spread out around the table to take up the spaces left by the absent Harry and Meghan.
Prince Charles adjusting the paper crown that has just tumbled from his cracker wondering when, if ever, he'll get to wear the real thing.
Prince William and Kate rolling their eyes at the Meghan-style inspirational message that's tumbled from theirs.
Princess Beatrice and her fiance glumly reviewing their massively scaled-down wedding plans.
And then when the butler enters to ask: "Shall we bring the turkey in now?" the irascible Duke of Edinburgh retorting: "No. Let Andrew stay out there for a while longer."
Back in 1992, a year that saw royal marriage separation, divorce, Squidgeygate, Diana's tell-all book and a calamitous fire at Windsor Castle, Her Majesty in a memorable speech delivered in a croaky voice (on top of it all she had the lurgy) referred to her annus horribilis.
That phrase has since become the yardstick by which all subsequent royal years have been measured.
And 2019 would certainly give 1992 a run for its money.
Yet for all its crises there have also been high points. These included a number of highly successful tours by Charles and Camilla and William and Kate (not least the separate visits both couples paid to Northern Ireland).
At the grand age of 93 the Queen still holds the reins - literally, in terms of her regular horse rides at Windsor - but there has been a greater sense this year of a more definite input into decision-making by Prince Charles and to some extent Prince William.
On the cusp of not just a new year but also a new decade, there's a distinct sense of the baton being passed on.
Charles is known to favour a trimmed down Royal Firm (given the controversies surrounding Andrew and Harry it may well have become self-trimming).
And William and Kate especially, have been forging a new, more 21st century royal role - and in the process cementing their popularity with the public.
So overall, what sort of year has it been for individual royals? Who had a good 2019? And for whom was it just horribilis?
The Queen and Prince Philip
The last days of this year have proved challenging for Her Majesty and her 98-year-old husband, who was in hospital again, though thankfully released just in time for Christmas. But the year did not begin well for the pair either. In January the Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a shocking collision between his Range Rover and another car. Mercifully a baby in the car was unhurt. But a woman passenger suffered a broken wrist. The Duke himself, "upset and shaken", had to be helped to crawl from his upturned vehicle. The thought of what might have been must surely have sent shockwaves through the Palace, never mind the horror his wife, the Queen herself will have felt.
The Duke voluntarily relinquished his licence. Not that he had much choice.
The birth, in May, of the newest addition to the family, Archie Harrison Mountbatten Windsor was undoubtedly an occasion for family celebration. But for the public what should have been a joyous time was soured by Harry and Meghan's strange and silly decision to keep certain details private.
The couple continued to command unfortunate headlines over the year.
And then, of course, there was Prince Andrew and the scandal of his links to the notorious convicted paedophile Epstein.
The fallout from that has tainted the monarchy itself. And the story is far from over. For a mother, never mind a queen, it must all be deeply distressing.
But Her Majesty, trooper that she is, just gets on with it adhering to her personal motto - never complain, never explain. Her work schedule, daunting for a woman half her age, ranges from state occasion to public visits.
She welcomed US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania (along with various members of their family) on what was a controversial state visit back in early June.
Mr Trump, revelling in the pomp, claimed he and the Queen had an "automatic chemistry". On June 5 the Queen joined 15 world leaders in Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
In her speech she noted that some had assumed that the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day would be the last.
"But the wartime generations, my generation, is resilient."
In November she was seen wiping away a tear as she watched the annual Cenotaph commemoration in Whitehall.
In December she entertained NATO leaders in Buckingham Palace. Again Mr Trump was in attendance. A video clip of the Queen asking who was next in line (and giving the impression she was eager to hurry him on his way) went viral. Perhaps she just wasn't feeling the "automatic chemistry".
Meanwhile, she has continued on the usual of public engagements too. On a visit to Sainsbury's - the chain was celebrating its 150th anniversary - she was introduced to the dubious joys of the self-service checkout. Unexpected monarch in the bagging area.
Unexpected too was a picture of the Queen which featured in a book by her friend and "dresser" Angela Kelly. The nonagenarian Elizabeth is shown posing like a supermodel with her hands in her pockets.
In the wider family sense, the Queen has not had her sorrows to seek this year. But in terms of duty, work load and public performance the indomitable Elizabeth has weathered 2019 much better that younger members of her family.
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
The year that has marked the 50th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales (he now is the longest serving heir apparent in British history) has been a surprisingly good one for Charles.
Surprising, because the prince, who has not always been the most popular royal, finally seems be coming into his own.
His views on climate change are now mainstream.
He seems genuinely content in his relationship with Camilla who appears - to some extent anyway - to have knocked a bit of the stuffiness out of him.
A documentary this year looking at his work with the Duchy of Cornwall earned him much praise.
And he and Camilla carried out a series of very successful tours this year including a trip to Northern Ireland in May where they were greeted by delighted fans in Fermanagh, Armagh, Lurgan and Belfast. Charles attended a ceremony in the Belfast synagogue, visited the site of the Primark fire, met emergency service personnel and was welcomed to the city with a memorable handshake from the newly elected Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, John Finucane, now an MP.
Other trips undertaken by the couple included an historic tour of Cuba and later in the year a royal visit to New Zealand which was overshadowed by the calamitous Prince Andrew television interview.
And Charles, as we know from his Diana years, does not take well to being overshadowed.
According to reports on his return he read Andrew the riot act before ensuring that he be relieved of his royal role.
For so long seen as the heir-in-waiting due to his mother's longevity and energy, his handling of the crisis is evidence of Charles' increasingly powerful position.
It's reported that his mother plans to "retire" - although not abdicate - on her 95th birthday with the Prince of Wales then assuming the role of Prince Regent.
The Andrew scandal and the concerns over Harry and Meghan are doubtless weighing on Charles as he looks to a new year - but also to the decade where he will surely finally ascend the throne.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Prince William and his wife Kate are the royals who've had by far the best 2019, representing as they do a fresh, young, more understated royal generation.
William and Kate's trick is that they've managed to combine a less grand, more empathetic royal approach while, at the same time, being observant of the monarchy's historic place and role.
They accept that there will be public interest in their children, George, Charlotte and Louis, and have adeptly allowed for some media access while also ensuring the trio have as normal a childhood as possible.
They come across as reasonably grounded themselves (or as much as multi-millionaire royals ever can.)
Kate's been spotted with trolley in various supermarkets. Her children wear clothes from high street stores, she recycles outfits, she's willing to get her hands dirty (creating a Chelsea Flower Show garden), in short she's your down-to-earth duchess-next-door.
A cynic might suggest it's all for the optics or to put some PR distance between the Cambridges and the Sussexes who have been accused of Marie Antoinette-level extravagance.
But William and Kate do seem genuine - and genuinely at ease with their royal role.
They were here for a tour of Northern Ireland back in February when even the weather smiled on them. The focus of the trip was very much on young people and youth work.
During a visit to Windsor Park - the Northern Ireland/Linfield home stadium, not the royal Great Park - Kate was photographed gently comforting little Jasmine Andrews who was a bit overcome by the occasion.
Another highly successful tour at the end of the year saw the pair travel to Pakistan where Kate showcased a succession of outfits in various shades of green. At least she'll have something to wear come next St Patrick's Day.
And the icing on the cake of an all-round good year for the pair was their much-lauded Christmas TV appearance with national treasure Mary Berry.
Like William's grandmother, the Cambridges adhere to the never complain, never explain mantra.
Earlier in the year there had been some gossip (dismissed by royal insiders) that Kate had banished a member of their Norfolk social circle (the so-called Turnip Toffs) after she’d fallen out with the lady for reasons unspecified.
Generally though the Cambridges come across as the easy-going, normal wing of the House of Windsor. They understand the rules of the royal game — that their lives of great privilege are funded by the public so it’s not unreasonable there will be a public interest in them.
Unlike others in the family, the Cambridges play the game.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Where to begin? As we know from their own description, 2019 was a year in which Harry and Meghan only survived.
They didn’t thrive.
This observation was shared with the rest of us via a television interview to round off a visit to South Africa where the pair saw at first hand shocking levels of deprivation and lack of opportunity.
But, never mind the locals, poor them.
And that was the attitude that summed up the Sussexes throughput this year.
There was much controversy over their splashing £2.4m on a refit of Frogmore Cottage — which is obviously not a “cottage” as the rest of us know it. Then there was a New York baby shower that cost more than a row of cottages.
There was the bare-faced — and on one occasion bare-footed — preaching about how we, ordinary punters should go easy on the easyJet while they themselves were swanning about on private jets and Elton Airlines.
Even the birth of their little boy Archie Harrison Mountbatten Windsor created rancour when the pair refused to reveal where he’d been born, who his godparents were and even to allow for a proper glimpse of the wee mite outside of his eyebrows and an arty Instagram shot of his feet.
Meanwhile the Duchess’ “friends” were briefing American publications about how the Sussexes were “single-handedly” changing the monarchy. Into what? A Gwyneth Paltrow-style conscious-uncoupling of the British monarchy from its hundreds of years of history?
The year has ended with Prince Harry declaring war on the media, lots of Instagram inspirational messaging, and the couple taking a six-week break to “recharge their batteries”.
Harry and Meghan were married amid a surge of public goodwill but that has largely dissipated as the petulant pair lecture and whinge.
Ahead lies an ill-advised action against a national newspaper which may see Meghan’s estranged father confront her in court.
All this must indeed have taken its toll on two young parents who should have had such a happy 2019.
Will 2020 bring more of the same? Or will the “battery recharge“ be, to use Meghan’s phrase, a game changer?
The Duke of York
Throughout the year there has been a build-up in the intensity of the allegations facing Prince Andrew over his connection with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein — and the unanswered questions about what exactly he knew.
In August after the vile Epstein took his own life in prison, Andrew was forced to issue a statement denying that he was aware of “any of the behaviour that subsequently led to his (Epstein’s) arrest”.
In September he visited Royal Portrush Golf Club of which he is — although the club is “monitoring” the situation — patron.
He was pictured with leading libel lawyer Paul Tweed who has represented a host of Hollywood stars as well as Fergie, Duchess of York.
And then in November came The Interview — surely the most disastrous, self-immolating royal interview of all time.
A sample low point came when His Royal Crassness claimed that having told Epstein he could no longer have anything to do with him, he’d then had to spend four days as guest in the convicted pervert’s mansion/House of Horror because he, Andrew, was just “too honourable” to do otherwise.
The interview focused global attention on the sordid accusations. More questions have been asked of the Duke. More allegations have been made. He’s been stood down by the royals and has been off-loaded by numerous charities.
The scandal has rocked the House of Windsor and will continue to reverberate into next year.
The Queen his mother in a show of solidarity, was seen out riding with him in the wake of the furore. But elsewhere Andrew is now seen as a princely pariah. Even his daughter Beatrice’s wedding plans are reported to have been scaled back as a result.
Meanwhile Fergie, or as her husband calls her, the Duchess, has been shamelessly using that royal title in her various money-making ventures.
For the gormless, grasping Duke of York 2019 has been a catastrophe. Entirely of his own making.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal
As the most low-key member of the royal cast — but also its hardest worker — Anne rarely gets a whole lot of attention.
But this year the woman with the most enduring hairdo in history is having something of a moment.
With some of her outfits older than ABBA and that iconic bouffant, Anne might not be appearing in Vogue anytime soon.
But she is very much in vogue again.
Bizarrely in part this has to do with the Netflix series The Crown where she is portrayed as a strong-willed, sensual young woman with a sharp wit and even sharper tongue.
The story has also resurfaced of how in the Seventies she confronted an armed would-be kidnapper who’d already shot two of her protection team. As he ordered her out of her car she’d told him: “Not bloody likely.”
With Andrew out of the picture, Anne may now find her already onerous workload increased.
But not only is she one of the real grafters in the Royal Firm she’s also one of the most self-effacing.
Another memorable Anne moment this year comes in that viral video of the Queen attempting to move Trump on his way.
“Who’s next?” Her Majesty says, craning to see.
Anne shrugs and laughs. “Just me.”
In August 2020 the Princess Royal will be 70. But don’t expect a retirement announcement any time soon.
Amid all the real-life drama that the royals have faced there’s also been the drama on the box.
The return, in other words, of the iconic series depicting the life of Her Majesty in not always flattering or accurate detail.
Series 3 on Netflix has been received to mixed reviews. Outside of the House of Windsor, that is. Who knows what the Queen really makes of it?
But it’s fair to say that her portrayal in the latest series where Olivia Colman stars in the lead role, is not the kindest.
Unlike Claire Foy who was Queen in Series 1 and 2, Ms Colman plays a monarch who is sour, dour, introspective and emotionally shutdown. Although not so emotionally bereft that she can’t have a hinted-at affair with her racing manager. (An affair utterly dismissed by friends of both).
Other liberties which have been taken with the facts show the Queen unable to squeeze out a tear at the scene of the Aberfan disaster. And the Queen Mother and Lord Mountbatten conspiring to separate Charles and Camilla. The casting hasn’t impressed many viewers either. Apart from the Queen, others who are unrecognisable (and not always in a good way) from the previous series are Princess Margaret, the Duke of Edinburgh and Antony Armstrong-Jones played by an actor who, to me anyway, is a ringer for Christopher Dean from Torvill and Dean.
The current series has renewed interest in one intriguing royal life — that of Princess Alice, the redoubtable mother of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Meanwhile the next series will bring us up the Thatcher era and to the Diana years.
Ahead for Her Majesty then, a dramatised rerun of that awful annus horribilis.