In one sense, it never really matters what the Queen actually says in her Christmas Day broadcast.
The important thing is she has joined us personally for those few minutes of chat beside the fire, in the snug, round the kitchen table or wherever, inside our own homes.
It’s that strange magic of her being there, but not there.
Let the anti-monarchists scoff! Of course we all realise that it’s an illusion – that she recorded the message several days ago.
But yesterday we enjoyed hearing her own words, delivered sincerely to each of us from her heart.
This wasn’t just another Christmas broadcast. In the past few years we’ve got to know the Queen better, and this year she revealed herself to us more than ever before. We’ve been part of history.
The heart of the matter is that, once a year, we get the chance to look at her close up, with the lines around her eyes and all the signals that mark the features of a 95-year-old lady – excuse me, Your Majesty.
Life, of course, consists of final partings as well as first meetings . . .’
We get to zoom in, up close and personal, so we can come to our own judgment as to how she’s looking, and especially how she’s bearing up under the strain of 2021: losing Philip, falling ill herself for a short spell and all those troubles in the family.
She was looking very good yesterday. That photograph of her late husband on her desk made a poignant statement, along with the sapphire honeymoon brooch that he gave her.
But her vibrant red dress made a statement of another kind – that she’ll be carrying on with all the ‘sense of service, intellectual curiosity and capacity to squeeze fun out of any situation’ with which Philip inspired her.
‘That mischievous enquiring twinkle,’ she recalled, ‘was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him.’
In the past 21 months of Covid torment we’ve had exhortations galore from politicians, but there’s been nothing to compare to the Queen’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ speech of April 2020.
No wonder her picture in that vivid green dress was splashed for days all over Piccadilly Circus. She nodded at the pandemic again yesterday, but she kept her emphasis on the personal.
How nice to learn that, like most of us, Her Majesty can only enjoy a Christmas carol ‘as long as the tune is well known’.
How nice to learn she likes films where you already know the ending’
And that, like many a family, she enjoys settling down in front of the TV to watch ‘a favourite film where we already know the ending’.
Let’s not forget that Elizabeth II was there at the start, in December 1932 when her adored grandfather George V, the founder of the House of Windsor, read out Britain’s first ever Royal broadcast. She was just six.
The gruff old king called her Lilibet. She called him Grandpa England. And nowadays, of course, she has become our very own Grandma England.
‘In the birth of a child,’ she shared with us yesterday, ‘there is a new dawn with endless potential.
‘It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing – simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus.’
The Queen likes to remind us every year what Christmas is all about – and that reminds us that she is a believing and practising Christian who prays and reads her Bible every day.
Reminds us she is a Christian who prays and reads her Bible’
Many TV viewers like to knock the historical accuracy of the Netflix series The Crown – and I should know, I’m its Historical Consultant! – but I defy anyone to provide a more telling depiction of the Queen’s religious faith than the episode in which screenwriter Peter Morgan portrays Her Majesty’s unlikely friendship with the American hot-gospeller Billy Graham, whom she would invite to preach in Windsor’s St George’s Chapel.
When the evangelist told her afterwards over a chatty lunch that he had almost based that day’s sermon on Christ’s healing of the crippled man – ‘Arise, take up thy bed and walk!’ – her eyes sparkled. ‘I wish you had!’ she exclaimed, ‘that is my favourite story!’
The Queen and Prince Philip enjoyed similar spiritual discussions with John Sentamu when he was Bishop of Stepney, and my Sikh and Muslim friends are never alienated when they hear of this emphatic Christian strand in the Royal make-up.
On the contrary, they enthuse that the Monarchy should be headed by a woman of belief in a world that increasingly disdains religion.
The teachings of Jesus, the Queen told us yesterday, ‘have been the bedrock of my faith’.
And this personal faith is the reason why she can celebrate Christmas and the year of her Platinum Jubilee that lies ahead with such joy – ‘even with one familiar laugh missing’.
Before she came to the Throne, Princess Elizabeth used to help her stuttering father King George VI with his Christmas addresses.
And in 1939, aged 13, when war threatened Britain with a menace that resonates today, she located in the poem ‘God Knows’ some lines that captured the mystery, challenge and promise that she would try to deliver in every Christmas message of her own: ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.’
We’re going to miss such inspiring personal insights into the thinking of this remarkable woman when it’s a male Monarch who pops up on our screens after Christmas lunch – as seems likely to be the case for the rest of this 21st Century. So let’s enjoy the Christmas wisdom of Grandma England while we can.
Robert Lacey’s A Brief Life Of The Queen is published by Duckworth Overlook.
This article was first published in The Mail on Sunday, 26th December 2021.