The Top 10 Royal Moments of 2020, From Buckingham Palace to Hollywood
From the Queen's steadying address at the onset of the pandemic to Harry and Meghan's reinvention of their royal roles, we take a look back at the top royal moments of 2020. Photo: Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images
In this year of crisis, the Queen did what she does best: she led with quiet dignity and the stoicism we all needed. Leadership doesn’t necessarily have to be about policy setting — the Queen sets the tone, which is more powerful and influential than any rulebook or legislative body. The tone she chose for this year was to reinforce the values of service, patience, and community, values that have been in scarce supply of late. Meanwhile, the tabloid soap opera of the British Royal Family — heightened to meta proportions with The Crown on Netflix reaching the Chuck and Di years in the fourth season of its fictionalized historical drama — continued on apace. But the gossip was supplanted, for the most part, by some really beautiful acts of public service. All in all, the monarchy ends this year ahead in relative terms to a turbulent 2019.
Harry and Meghan’s Farewell Tour
The year began with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex returning from their idyllic Vancouver Island holiday break to promptly drop a bombshell: they wanted out, at any cost, it turns out. A lot of very public back and forth ensued regarding their status. Their half-in, half-out proposal was soundly rejected by the Queen and courtiers at secret summits to which her grandson was summoned.
Harry and Meghan disappeared back to Canada with Archie ahead of their final Royal appearances around Commonwealth Day in early March. Little did we know as we watched the drama unfurl — and the boffo fashion triumph Meghan pulled off for her final three outings as an HRH, with British designer star power crafting those jewel-toned blue, red and green monochromatic looks — that the Sussexes would slip out of London just as lockdown began.
The public’s attention quickly shifted to the Queen’s bubble, and to Charles’s COVID diagnosis, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stepped up to cover off business for their elders, who were all more at risk from the virus.
A Steady Hand on the Wheel
At the height of the first lockdown, the Queen addressed the British public and the citizens of the Commonwealth. The unprecedented (there’s that word we so overused this year, but in the case of the Queen, precedent is everything) addresses made by the monarch did much to square our collective shoulders for the long-haul battle. The address, only the fifth televised address during her reign, was watched by 24 million people around the world. The Queen promised better days ahead. “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.” She thanked essential workers and health care providers, and cited “the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet, good-natured resolve, and of fellow feeling” that would help carry us all through.
There were echoes of the addresses she had made as a young girl during World War II, and she underscored that with a reference to that war’s songbird, Vera Lynn, whom we later lost in June at the age of 103, with the simple words, “We’ll meet again.”
Prince Charles Caught COVID (Turns Out Wills Did Too)
COVID swept through the monarchies of Europe, as Prince Albert of Monaco was diagnosed in March, then Prince Charles the same month. His son, Prince William tested positive soon after – but it didn’t stop the 38-year-old royal from stepping up to the challenge of carrying on with his duties as one of the hardest working members of the royal family during the pandemic. In their efforts to support causes such as the National Health Service (NHS), frontline workers and isolated seniors to name just a few, it’s the first time we’ve seen Will and Kate use their grace, youth and their children – Prince George, 7, Princess Charlotte, 5, and Prince Louis, 2— to help support the work of the Queen. And despite the ongoing challenges of the crisis, Prince William still made time for his environmental causes by joining forces with Sir David Attenborough to repair the planet by 2030 with the historic £50 million Earthshot Prize.
Charles, 71, who reported only mild symptoms of the coronavirus, recovered in self-isolation at his home in Scotland; his wife, Camilla, tested negative and kept apart from him through his quarantine.
Watch Prince Charles’ Message of Hope After COVID-19 Recovery
It only emerged towards the end of the year that Prince William, had also been diagnosed with COVID early in the pandemic, but kept the news from becoming public to avoid setting off fears for the line of succession with his father ill.
Kate’s Style Messaging
Kate Middleton’s fashion and co-ordinating photo-styling skills were on display in the early days of the pandemic as she and William appeared in co-ordinating clothing with their three children, George, Charlotte and Louis to “clap for carers” out in front of their bolthole at Anmer Hall in Norfolk, where they spent much of the original lockdown. The family portrait was a vision in blue, centred on Kate’s ruffled French blue dress by Ghost, with the kids and their Dad in a complementary palette of navy, white and the same blue as Mom.
In general, Kate toned down her lockdown looks, even when she and William resumed in-person visits to thank health care workers over the summer. She worked her signature mask style around floral prints, and opted for repeat wearings of high-street pantsuits, jumpers and her beloved shirtdresses.
If anything, Kate went for brighter tones, the better to catch the eye on video visits, with a pink Marks and Spencer’s pantsuit causing a mini-sensation amid the track-suited masses. The usually monochromatic Kate made room for some sporty Breton stripes, a great mustard Zara sweater and even some Diana-reminiscent polka dots.
The Hot and Cold Heir
Charles has generally been enjoying a good period, viz a viz his public profile and place in the hearts of the British nation. His once-quirky ways — talking to plants, organic gardening, environmentalist pursuits — turned out to simply be ahead of his time, as they are now very much in vogue. The public has come to accept and have a fondness for Camilla as well, now 15 years into their marriage, and there was much concern for him over his COVID diagnosis.
And then came The Crown, Season 4. The previous season had shown a sympathetic view of young Charles, denied the woman he loves (Camilla) and working hard to learn Welsh before his investiture as the Prince of Wales. The actor playing him, Josh O’Connor, imbued the young prince with brooding good looks and a dashing way with outdoor sporting gear. But the arrival of Diana this season, played by winsome newcomer Emma Corrin with flirtatious spunk in public and harrowing suffering in private, spoiled Charles’s honeymoon. See, even if the series is fictionalized, a lot of the couple’s problems had played out in public. The public was thus firmly on Diana’s side then, and again now, as the ubiquitous series reminds us all of the tawdriness of Charles’s affair with Camilla.
Yes, they do show Diana also being unfaithful, which is historically accurate, but again, now as then, we forgive her for finding refuge from such an unhappy marriage, in which she was so trapped, anywhere she could get it. Someone as young and beautiful as Diana was when she died is frozen in time, and we humans tend to put such icons on untouchable pedestals. Charles, being a living, breathing man now married to Diana’s nemesis is taking a second round of backlash. The royal family of the 80s does not come off as warm and fuzzy this season either.
Princess Anne Gets Her Due
One royal who has had a good go on The Crown is the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne. The series partly helped revive interest in the “hardest working royal,” a woman who seems to have mastered her mother’s “keep calm and carry on” stoicism through the romantic storms of her own life. On the occasion of her 70th birthday this past summer, Anne became an unlikely style icon as publications pulled some of her best looks back for a retrospective. Anne’s horsey style feels right, right now and, like her environmentally-motivated older brother Charles, Anne is a devoted re-wearer of clothing.
In contrast to the younger generation of fashion show-ponies, Anne comes off as practical and no-fuss, which underlines her reputation as devoted to the numerous causes she has pledged her time to. Even her unchanging helmet hairstyle is lauded now for its continuity and practicality. Anne is on a good news cycle personally, as well, as she has a fifth grandchild now on the way as daughter Zara just announced she was pregnant with her third child.
Andrew Out of The Frame
Princess Beatrice had her May wedding postponed due to lockdown. But there was also the cloud of her father’s scandal hanging over the affair, which was to have been held at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Unlike her younger sister Eugenie, whose nuptials were televised and included a carriage parade around Windsor Castle, Beatrice had always planned to have a smaller, more private affair. Her wedding party was to have included her new stepson, as her betrothed, Eduardo Mapelli Mozzo, had a child with his former fiancée. But the etiquette sticking point really was Prince Andrew, whose participation threatened to overshadow the bride’s moment. Andrew, of course, is deeply mired in the fallout from his associations with the late, convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew was forcibly retired from public service late last year due to the clouds cast by the scandal, and has thus far avoided official questioning requested by the FBI.
In the end, Bea and Edu chose the participation of the Queen over all other considerations and held a tiny, private service held in accordance with Covid guidances at All Saint’s Chapel.
A small outdoors reception was held following at Royal Lodge, the home of her parents (Sarah Ferguson still lives with her ex, Andrew). The photos released after the ceremony featured the new couple with Bea’s grandparents, the Queen and Prince Phillip, standing more than the requisite six feet apart. The Queen also showed Bea some very public support by loaning her one of her own archival gowns to wear down the aisle. Sure, most royal brides borrow a tiara, but an important dress from the Queen is a sign of great love and favour.
Meanwhile, In Hollywood
Harry and Meghan slipped over the border secretly to settle first at a home borrowed from Tyler Perry before they purchased a permanent $14.7 million US mansion in Montecito, Santa Barbara, where they are neighbours to the likes of Oprah. The 9 bedroom, 16 bathroom home, complete with SoCal amenities such as pool and tennis courts, plus more whimsical touches as a tea house and an in-law cottage for Meghan’s Mom Doria, presumably. The pair, now closer to their Hollywood managers and PR teams, made moves right away. They mixed some judicious private charity work with power deals, such as the reportedly $100 million US Netflix deal, and more recently a podcast brand.
Meghan met (in a socially distanced way) with icons such as Gloria Steinem, and even made an appearance on a CNN Heroes broadcast, trading her California laid back looks for a champagne pussy-bow blouse that felt like a royal throwback.
She announced that she had miscarried her second child in. the summer via an op-ed in the New York Times that also called for people to look out for one another in this time of universal mental health challenges. All in, it feels like years since Megxit, and the couple have carved out a completely new life and look in Meghan’s sunny hometown.
The services for Remembrance Sunday took on added poignancy in this year of loss. Without Meghan on the balcony this year, all eyes were on Kate, who shone in a black, military style coat by Catherine Walker, long a favourite of the Duchess as well as her late mother-in-law.
The strict styling felt right this year, and Remembrance Sunday is one of the most important, most sombre occasions on the royal calendar. Harry and Meghan took some flack for doing their own acts of remembrance in California, with the former soldier (who was stripped of all his honourary military ranks when he stepped away from active service to the Queen) laying wreaths in honour of Commonwealth soldiers.
It was perfectly appropriate, and clearly something that means a great deal to the Prince, who speaks often of how he treasured his military experience and camaraderie. Meghan wore a bespoke Brandon Maxwell wool satin faille coatdress, hemmed to a three-quarter length. The criticism came from certain corners of the British media, who expressed anger at the couple releasing their own photos of them doing the good deed. But that feels like a low blow on this year, and frankly, they would have been damned had they not done anything.
The upside-down, not good, very bad year ended with a royal treat. William and Catherine took a whirlwind tour through Britain, Scotland and Wales on the Royal Train. The tour really was a whistlestop, as they disembarked to distance-greet people and watch bands play along the way. The opportunity for coatdresses was unparalleled for Kate, who donned a closetful of great repeat coats, made to look fabulous side-by-side in a slideshow.
From a plaid to a gorgeous olive green, a forest green and a French blue piece, Kate made gloves and masks look like very chic finishing pieces.
The tour ended at Windsor Castle, where William and Kate appeared (distanced) on the stairs with the Queen, Charles and Camilla, Princess Anne and Sophie and Edward: the picture told the story of Charles getting the new “slimmed down” senior monarchy he wanted.
A few days later was another Cambridge surprise, as William and Kate took their kids to a pantomime called Pantoland at the Palladium in London for a special show given to thank essential health care workers and their families. Pantos are a particular British tradition that take place around Christmas, and are generally boggling to anyone outside of the British Isles. Reports are that the kids loved the outing, complete with their first-ever red carpet.
WATCH: The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2020
Her Majesty reflects on acts of kindness and heroism during this extraordinary year.