Prince George and Princess Charlotte have joined the royals’ traditional Christmas Day church service for the first time, while other family members – including embattled Prince Andrew — tried to keep a low profile.
After speculation on whether she would address the scandal over Andrew and his links to Jeffrey Epstein in her Christmas message, the Queen did make vague references to challenging times.
From a desk adorned with family photographs, the 93-year-old acknowledged a “bumpy” year in which the path was “not always smooth”, while urging the community to look to the future.
The Queen said she had been struck by the “sense of purpose” younger generations have shown in tackling issues like climate change.
“As we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change,” she said.
Before the afternoon broadcast, the Christmas Day focus was on future generations of royals – and their small steps. Crowds lined up outside St Mary Magdalene Church to see the tiniest royal churchgoers make their debut at the family tradition.
George, six, and four-year-old Charlotte walked the short distance from Sandringham House hand in hand with their parents, Prince William and Kate. Prince Charles walked alongside them.
One-year-old Prince Louis stayed at the house.
Also to mark the day, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge released a special family photograph taken by Kate.
Wearing a red coat and hat, the Queen arrived at the church in a maroon Bentley with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Philip, 98, who was discharged from hospital on Christmas Eve after a health scare, was at Sandringham but did not attend church.
The Queen’s husband had spent four nights at the King Edward VII Hospital in London to receive treatment for a “pre-existing condition”.
Prince Andrew, who has had a tumultuous end to the year after his disastrous BBC television interview, walked side by side with brother Charles to a private service at 9am. He skipped the 11am service.
Andrew remained at Sandringham House to spend time with Prince Philip, a source said, which was Andrew’s personal decision.
It comes after Andrew’s attempt to explain his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein backfired and he was heavily criticised for showing a lack of empathy towards Epstein’s victims and remorse over his friendship with the disgraced financier.
Prince Harry and Meghan were also absent this year, instead opting to spend seven-month-old Archie’s first Christmas with Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland in Canada.
They sent out a short Christmas message on Instagram. It followed the release of an adorable Christmas card featuring baby Archie.
Others attending the main morning service included Princess Beatrice and her fiance Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, Princess Anne, and Prince Edward and his wife Sophie.
The Queen walked unaided down the church steps after the service and left in her chauffeured car with Sophie.
Kate, holding her daughter’s hand, curtseyed to the Queen from the steps as the car departed.
Back at the house, the family traditionally indulge in turkey, reared at Sandringham, before settling down to watch TV, including the Queen’s Christmas message.