Why this Christmas will mean so much for the Queen

Following a traumatic year, the Queen is expected to host her usual family gathering at Sandringham. Former royal butler Paul Burrell reveals how it will help heal her sadness and – after his many Palace Christmases – he shares his memories of regal knees-ups

the queen christmas plans 2021

by Daisy McLure |

She’s been monarch for seven decades, but for the Queen, 2021 was one of the toughest years of her reign.

In April, she lost husband of 74 years Prince Philip, 99, who died in his sleep. Just a month earlier, grandson Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey that took shots at the royals, accusing them of racism and neglecting the couple’s mental health.

Earlier this month, reports claimed Harry and dad Prince Charles were “barely on speaking terms”, while he’s believed to have little contact with brother William.

the queen prince philip
Her Majesty lost her beloved Philip in April ©Getty Images

Meanwhile, in August, Prince Andrew, 61, was faced with a civil lawsuit, after Virginia Giuffre Roberts sued him for “sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress”. The case is ongoing.

On top of that, the Queen, 95, has suffered ill health, pulling out of commitments and being ordered to “rest”.

Former royal butler Paul Burrell, 63 – who worked for the Queen and then Princess Diana from 1976 to 1997 – tells Closer the Queen will be glad 2021 is almost over.

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prince philip funeral
The ceremonial procession for the Duke ©Getty Images

Paul says, “The Queen loves Christmas, but it will highlight the absence of Philip, and the gap between the royals and Harry and Meghan. But she’ll be proud of William’s work with mental health and the Earthshot Prize, and he and Kate are popular, so that’s a comfort. After everything she’s been through, she will need this time with loved ones to help heal some of her sadness.”

Last year, the royals were separated by the pandemic, with the Queen spending her last Christmas with Philip at Windsor. But the family is again due to head to Sandringham, with a source saying the Queen is still “committed to hosting”.

Here, Paul, who spent every year of his service at the Sandringham festivities, recalls happier memories from Christmases past.

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Paul Burrell: ‘The royals wear paper crowns but not Her Majesty – she has the real thing!’

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A civil lawsuit was filed against Prince Andrew ©Getty Images

Paul says, “Christmas with the royal family is a day of happy chaos, noise, laughter and joy. Everyone is in great spirits, happy to be together and ready for celebrations. It’s like any of our Christmases – just in a much bigger house!”

And he says pomp and ceremony take a back seat at Christmas, with the emphasis on fun, as the Queen, 95, still fills stockings for her four grown-up children, chuckles at cracker jokes and throws herself into Christmas shopping – in her own royal way!

Paul reveals, “The Queen can’t go to the shops to go Christmas shopping like the rest of us, so she does a couple of different things. Firstly, she has catalogues sent to her, and then the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis sends her a selection of almost everything they stock.

“There is a little ‘shop’ set up in the drawing room at Windsor Castle and the Queen can pop in and choose gifts at her leisure. Late at night, after dinner, usually around 10pm, she’ll pop into her little Christmas shop and do some shopping.

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Harry and meghan made damaging claims ©Shutterstock

“The Queen always chooses practical gifts that can be used – never ornaments or decorative things. So she might pick some picnic plates, a tablecloth, or a couple of hand towels. Then they are wrapped up and a truckload of presents are ready to go to Sandringham.”

Most of the family, including the Queen’s four children – Prince Charles, 73, Princess Anne, 71, Prince Andrew, 61, and Prince Edward, 57 – along with their children and the Queen’s great grandchildren, spend Christmas together.

And Paul explains how, due to attending the royal church service on Christmas morning, the festivities for the family begin the night before – an occasion Paul says is “hilarious” as the royals allow stiff upper lips to break into laughter.

“They have tea around five o’clock on Christmas Eve and when they’ve finished, the doors to the drawing room are opened – there’s a tree with twinkling lights in the corner – and all of the family unwrap their presents. Each member of the family has a little space on a large white table with their name and gifts on,” he says.

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The family attends a church service every year ©Shutterstock

“The Queen does a stocking for her four children – with a few coins in it, an apple and an orange and a few little gifts, like a silk tie or handkerchiefs.

“It’s hilarious because when the doors are opened, the noise is like a football match. There are children screaming, dogs barking – even adults screaming – they all have great fun.

“One year, William and Harry – then aged around 11 and eight – found it hilarious that they’d bought their grandfather Prince Philip a whoopee cushion, and their granny the Queen a plastic dog poo. The Queen was always getting worked up if any of her corgis were to make a mess inside, so the boys pranked her with a fake one, which they couldn’t stop laughing about for weeks.”

royal family christmas cracker
The monarch has a royal cracker-maker! ©Getty Images

Meanwhile, Paul says the royal Christmas lunch is a very traditional affair. He reveals, “Lunch is much like ours, with turkey and a Christmas pudding, which is set on fire by the butler, with flames so high it often singed his eyebrows!

“The Queen has her own royal cracker-maker, so she chooses the gifts and jokes. Anything that makes her chuckle should make everyone else laugh, too. I’ve seen members of the family wearing a paper crown, but never Her Majesty – she has the real thing!

“The Queen never watches her own speech, so she excuses herself and takes the corgis for a walk while the rest of the family watch.

“In the evening, they’ll relax, but there’s always a jigsaw on the go – something like a train or a rocket, and the Queen likes to do the edges.”

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And Paul adds that on New Year’s Eve, the family follows a Hogmanay tradition to bring good luck. He says, “The youngest member of the household staff with dark hair will go outside and knock the front door at midnight. He or she will be holding a piece of coal, which they will then place on the fire, and it is their duty to wish the Queen and the family a happy new year.”

And he confesses the staff tended to get excited about New Year too, as they would enjoy a glass of champagne “behind closed doors”.

“I’m not sure if the Queen knows!” he laughs. “But I’m sure she’d be happy to know we did. Her Majesty loves the festive season and she’d want her staff to enjoy themselves.”

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