The Queen has been forced to cancel her annual Christmas gift-giving ceremony for the first time in living memory due to Covid restrictions.
Every year the Monarch, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, order presents for every single member of the royal household, which are usually given to them along with a Christmas pudding in the Advent period.
Past favourites include a special trinket box or a photo frame engraved with her personal cypher and champagne flutes.
The Queen personally hands over her token of appreciation to a small selection of staff by the Christmas trees at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle as a special thank you for their loyal service, before she de-camps to Sandringham until February.
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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who will be spending Christmas ‘quietly’ at Windsor Castle this year, will not personally hand over gifts to royal staff, as has been the tradition throughout the 94-year-old Monarch’s reign
Known to spend thousands of pounds on her staff at Christmas, with favourites including a Christmas pudding, champagne flutes or engraved trinket boxes, the Queen will still gift presents but, due to the pandemic, won’t hand them over personally
However, this year the intimate ceremonies have been cancelled due to social distancing regulations and the need for the 94-year-old monarch to stay in a strict operational bubble.
Royal employees have also been informed, unsurprisingly, that the Palace’s main official Christmas party, as well as all smaller staff events, have been cancelled.
The annual lunch the monarch holds on the Wednesday before Christmas for her own extended family – which normally sees more than 25 royals and their children sit down to a full turkey lunch – has also, inevitably, fallen by the wayside, sources confirmed.
‘It’s a great shame but inevitable and the right thing to do,’ a source said.
‘The staff will still receive a gift from the Queen as usual but there will be no special moment with Her Majesty. It’s as much a disappointment for her as it will be for them, as it’s a hugely special time of the year.
‘And like offices around the country there will be no Christmas parties at Buckingham Palace or any of the royal residences this year. It’s the way it has to be.’
The Queen, 94, wrapped up warm as she took to the saddle of her favourite black pony earlier this week in Windsor alongside Head Groom Terry Pendry. The monarch faces a quieter Christmas, without extended family, and is expected not to form ‘bubbles’ with other family members
The Queen’s gift-giving ceremony is always a matter of huge excitement for palace employees.
Those chosen to receive their present personally from Her Majesty include long-serving serving staff members or junior employees who have had a particularly successful year. Senior members of staff, who have day to day contact with the monarch, have theirs delivered to them instead.
Over the years palace employees have received some ‘wonderful’ gifts including silver photograph frames, champagne flutes, salt and pepper sets and trinket boxes, all engraved with the Queen’s official royal cypher.
Those that don’t wish to have a gift can ask for vouchers from stores such as John Lewis instead.
It marks the first year the Queen and Prince Philip have spent Christmas at Windsor since 1988, when they first began celebrating at Sandringham
One former employee recalled how staff are called into either the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace or St George’s Hall at Windsor and given their present.
‘It’s very small and intimate. The Queen is standing by the tree and hands you the gift and has a little chat. For a lot of people it is their one chance to speak personally with Her Majesty during the year. It is very special moment indeed,’ they said.
The gifts are paid for by the Queen out of her own pocket and cost her tens of thousands of pounds each year.
How Princess Elizabeth travelled to Malta to spend Christmas with Prince Philip in 1949 – WITHOUT one-year-old Prince Charles
The Queen’s love affair with the island began in 1949 when Prince Philip was made First Lieutenant on HMS Chequers. Later that year, Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, suggested she joined her husband on Malta.
After celebrating Prince Charles’ first birthday in 1949, the then Princess Elizabeth travelled to Malta to spend the holidays with Prince Philip (pictured together in November 1949)
So after celebrating Prince Charles’s first birthday, the Princess flew to the island arriving on her second wedding anniversary, November 20.
It was truly a different world for the Princess. She handled cash for the first time and even enjoyed the novelty of visiting second-rate hairdressing salons.
‘They were magical days of endless picnics, sunbathing and waterskiing,’ says Lady Pamela in a rare interview. ‘Prince Philip was stunning. He really was. A sort of Greek god. And she was beautiful with that marvellous complexion.
‘The Princess really loved Malta because she was able to lead a normal life, wander through the town and do some shopping, and whenever the [British Navy] fleet came in we would rush to the Barrakka [the public gardens on the sea front] to see it – which was always a fantastic sight.’
Lady Pamela, 86, is the younger daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last viceroy of India, who ruled it for George VI, our last king-emperor. Mountbatten was Prince Philip’s cousin.
His daughter, Lady Pamela, was the Queen’s bridesmaid and lady-in-waiting and is uniquely placed to recall just how much the Royal couple loved their Mediterranean island life. ‘It was the only place that she was able to live the life of a naval officer’s wife, just like all the other wives,’ Lady Pamela explains.
‘It was wonderful for her and it’s why they have such a nostalgia for Malta.’
For the Duke, newly reunited with his young wife during leave, the only fly in the ointment was the ever-present Bobo, who had been Elizabeth’s nurse since childhood, and is described by Lady Pamela as ‘terrifying’.
Prince Charles spent his second Christmas with his grandparents at Sandringham House while the Queen and Prince Philip were in Malta
‘Prince Philip had quite a battle because Bobo used to sit at the end of the bath when the Princess was having a bath and have a gossip.
‘I think Philip had quite a battle to remove Bobo from the edge of the bath and make it possible for him to sit there.’
While his parents were in Malta for Christmas, the Prince of Wales was left with his grandparents King George VI and the Queen Mother at their Sandringham Home.
In a letter from the Queen Mother to the then Princess Elizabeth date marked 21 December 1949, she penned: ‘I went to see Charles yesterday & he seemed in very good form. I think that his teeth are worrying him a bit, but otherwise he is very well.’
They will still be handed out, as will the Christmas puddings (although in recent years the Queen switched from Fortum & Mason to Tesco in a bid to save money).
But thanks to Covid restrictions and the Queen’s tightly-controlled Windsor bubble, this will be done by departmental heads instead, either in person or via the royal post.
‘Christmas will look very different for everyone this year, and Buckingham Palace will be no different,’ confirmed a royal source yesterday.
A palace spokesman said that recent claims about which family members might be included in Her Majesty’s extended ‘bubble’ for Christmas were simply ‘conjecture and speculation‘.
Where will the royal family spend Christmas?
Charles and Camilla: Understood to be spending it alone at their home of Highgrove but will see Queen and Phillip ‘at some point’ during the holidays.
They will also see Camilla’s children Tom Parker Bowles and Laura Lopes at some point
Prince William and Kate Middleton: Could spend Christmas at Anmer Hall, Norfolk or with the Middletons in Berkshire
The Wessexes: Prince Edward and Sophie are likely to spend Christmas at their home of Bagshot Park in Surrey
The Yorks: Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson are likely to spend Christmas with Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, as well as their husbands Jack Brooksbank and Edo Mapelli Mozzi. They may spend Christmas at the Royal Lodge in Windsor
Princess Anne: The Princess Royal may spend Christmas with her children Zara Tindall and Peter Philips and their families on their estate of Gatcombe
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: The Sussexes are spending Christmas in California
The Monarch and Prince Phillip traditionally spend the festive season with close family at Sandringham, in Norfolk. But this year they will forgo the festivities and remain at Windsor Castle, where they have been isolating with a ‘bubble’ of staff since October.
It is understood the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will not take advantage of the relaxed Covid restrictions to form a Christmas bubble with other households.
It means the couple face spending Christmas Day without any of their four children for the first time since 1949, when the then Princess Elizabeth left a one-year-old Charles in the UK so she could be with Prince Philip in Malta.
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will spend Christmas at Highgrove, in Gloucestershire, although they expect to see the Queen and Prince Philip at Windsor at some point over the festive season. Camilla will also spend time with her family.
In Tier 2 regions, like Windsor, up to six people from different households are able to mix outdoors. This means the Queen and Prince Philip could meet with family members for horse riding or walks in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
The couple are well accustomed to spending Christmas at Windsor Castle, having spent holidays at the castle before moving the celebration to Sandringham in 1988.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are likely to spend Christmas either at Anmer Hall, in Norfolk, or at the Middleton family home in Berkshire.
Prince Edward, the Countess of Wessex and their children live at Bagshot Park, Surrey, while Princess Anne and her family live at Gatcombe Park, in Gloucestershire. Prince Andrew is the only one of the Queen’s four children who lives in Windsor.
The Queen won’t attend a church service on Christmas Day in order to prevent crowds gathering but is expected to worship privately in Windsor Castle’s private chapel.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said this afternoon: ‘Having considered all the appropriate advice, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have decided that this year they will spend Christmas quietly in Windsor.’
Prince Philip and the Queen have spent the year with a specially screened household dubbed ‘HMS Bubble’.
The Queen and the Duke had a summer holiday at Balmoral in August, but spent less than half their normal 10 weeks in Scotland due to coronavirus restrictions that limited visits from family and friends.
For the last 33 years, the Queen 94, has spent the festive season at Sandringham, where she hosts close family members and enjoys traditions such as the Boxing Day shoot. Pictured, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh with Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on Christmas Day in 2017
Prince Philip then wanted to return to Wood Farm and, in an unusual move, the Queen decided to join him before returning to Windsor last month.
When she returned to Windsor alone at the start of October, the plan was for her to commute between Norfolk, Windsor and Buckingham Palace where she could have official engagements.
Seemingly, however, that has proved unworkable, and her only Royal visit has been a trip to the Porton Down military research laboratory near Salisbury.
The Queen has, however, found time for horse riding and has been spotted out in Windsor in recent days.
Earlier today the Queen donned a cosy tan coloured coat and head scarf as she rode out on her favourite black horse alongside her head groom Terry Pendry.
Throughout the pandemic, head groom Terry has ensured the royal’s ponies are ready and that he keeps two metres from his boss during their rides.
All protective disinfectant measures are taken, particularly for the horse’s saddle and bridle.
A devoted team of 22 staff have been working throughout this year to provide a protective shield around Elizabeth and Prince Philip, which Windsor Castle colleagues are calling ‘HMS Bubble’.
It includes her favourite page Paul Whybrew – with whom she is so comfortable that they often watch TV together, and who co-starred in her James Bond skit for the London Olympics Opening Ceremony – as well as chefs, cleaners and officials.
Led by master of the household Tony Johnstone-Burt and the queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, the team have willingly agreed to live away from their own families for the duration of the lockdown.
It means they can serve the monarch and her husband without needing protective equipment such as gloves and masks, or to abide by social-distancing guidelines.