10 Defining Royal Moments in the Last Decade
Queen Elizabeth II poses in London’s Windsor Castle after recording her annual Christmas message, during which she acknowledged a turbulent 2019, ntoing, “the path … is not always smooth and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy.” Photo: Steve Parsons/Pool/ AFP/Getty Images
The Queen acknowledged in her 2019 Christmas speech — an annual tradition — that, “the path of course is not always smooth and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy.” She may have been referring to the electoral drama surrounding Brexit, but this, of course, reminded royal watchers of everything from the rift between Princes Harry and William, Harry and Meghan’s dissatisfaction with royal life and, most seriously, Prince Andrew’s involvement with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Still, the 2010s as a whole were a triumph for the monarchy, especially when compared to the nadir of the previous 10 years.
It was in 1992, the year Charles and Diana separated and the Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite castle, Windsor, went up in flames, that she mordantly declared it an “annus horribilis,” after Charles and Diana divorced in 1996, Diana died in a horrific Paris car crash the next year. The Queen was roundly criticized for the way she handled Diana’s death, the fallout leaving the monarchy at its most vulnerable since the abdication crisis of 1936. Ironically, when Edward VIII, demoted to the Duke of Windsor, was banished to France with his twice-divorced American lover, Wallis Simpson, it paved the way for Elizabeth — then first in line to the throne — to begin the longest, most steadfast reign since Queen Victoria’s 63 years.
In the 2010s, Queen Elizabeth II earned her way back into the public’s affection with her unswerving commitment to the British people, which she voiced at 21 when she was still a princess. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
She is an icon, with her jubilant rainbow-bright matching outfits somehow underscoring her poise and unyielding gravitas even in tumultuous times. It has been a remarkable 67 years since her ascension to the throne. Her heir, Charles, Prince of Wales, has risen in esteem and has begun to assert his own voice and vision for the future. But it is the next generation’s exciting flurry of weddings and babies that kept us in thrall as they wrestle to master social media and the unrelenting gaze of the internet. In the line of succession, it was Diana’s sons and their families who stole the spotlight over the past decade, carving milestone moments into the history of the British royal family.
Kate and William’s Wedding
The 2010 announcement of this impending union released all manner of pent up royal fever. The romantic details — a Kenyan safari where William presented then-Kate Middleton with Diana’s famous sapphire engagement ring — set the stage for the April 29, 2011 blowout celebration of the marriage of the second in line to the throne. Will and Kate, as they were known, then had been dating for eight years before he put a ring on it, so Kate was well aware of the gravity of what she was taking on.
The Royal Family, having learned from the Diana debacle, didn’t throw William’s girlfriend into the deep end of the firm’s pool without proper preparation, even though she was ridiculed as Waity Katie. People had hoped that Diana and Charles would live out the fairy-tale fantasy, but this seemed to be the real thing, as the girl next door — a commoner — met and married the most eligible bachelor in the land.
She wore a lace and satin dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen that set the tone for her new role as a diplomatic fashion plate. William wore the scarlet uniform of the Colonel of the Irish Guards. They were young and fresh and the embodiment of hope. Some 26 million people watched as they exchanged vows on live television.
Kate and William’s First Canadian tour
Hot on the heels of their honeymoon, the newly wed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge embarked on their first official tour in the summer of 2011, spending nine days travelling across Canada. The couple’s youthful vibrancy and warm relatability entranced our nation as they showed off their sporty sides from coast to coast. A visit to Prince Edward Island was a nod to Kate’s love of Anne of Green Gables, and they charmed in cowboy hats at the Calgary Stampede. Kate’s brilliant red-and-white dress code, including a maple-leaf fascinator worn on Canada Day, captured hearts and fashion column inches. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper said William and Kate were bigger than the Beatles. But it was William who nailed the quote of the tour. “In 1939, my great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, said of her first tour of Canada with her husband King George VI, ‘Canada made us.’ Catherine and I now know very well what she meant.”
Prince George is Born
The birth of a male heir has always been a traditional moment of triumph for a royal bride, securing the future of the blood line. When Kate and William announced she was pregnant in December 2012, the frenzy began. Everyone had royal baby fever and the bookies had a heyday, with punters taking stakes in the smallest of details. The Queen had started the process of changing the rules for royal succession when William and Kate got married; the Succession to the Crown Act was passed in early 2013 and came into effect in 2015. Thus, while the sex of the impending baby was a big wagering stake, the future of the monarchy did not depend on a Y chromosome.
Prince George arrived to unprecedented fanfare on July 22, 2013. He made his public debut soon after on the steps of the Lindo wing of St. Mary’s Hospital with his parents, the same vantage point from which Diana and Charles introduced William and Harry to the world three decades before. Kate’s Jenny Packham blue dress was a nod to the late Princess Diana’s style. She later repeated the look following the birth of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, on May 2, 2015. After Prince Louis was born on April 23, 2018, the red dress with white collar that Kate wore for his hospital photo op was a direct nod to the one Diana wore with Prince Harry, and the concept of royal twinning was born.
Harry Marries Meghan
With the 2018 marriage of dashing Prince Harry to actress/philanthropist and gorgeous TV star Meghan Markle, the monarchy entered the 21st-century era of inclusivity. Introduced on a blind date in 2016, a whirlwind romance saw the besotted prince visiting L.A.-born Markle at her home base in Toronto, where they went public as a couple at his 2017 Invictus Games. Meghan, an American divorcee, would be the first woman of colour to join the Royal family. She became a symbol, and a representative, of the modern, multicultural constituency of the sovereign’s Commonwealth subjects around the world. Indeed, Harry is president and Meghan vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
The wedding was another boffo display of pomp and circumstance, but Meghan, who wore a Givenchy couture gown with a long veil bearing the flowers of the Commonwealth countries, added in some highly significant nods to her racial heritage, namely a gospel choir and an African American Episcopalian preacher who spoke of slavery and love. It was a special moment that allowed the Markle family drama that had plagued the wedding preparations to recede into the background. In a feminist statement, the bride walked herself partway down the aisle where she was met halfway by Prince Charles, who escorted her to the altar, showing she was truly welcomed into the fold.
But it was the swift arrival of baby Archie less than a year later on May 6, 2019, that was the icing on Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake. After a tumultuous time in the public eye, where Meghan was put through a tabloid hazing, Meghan sued two papers and Harry mounted an impassioned attack on the press, saying they were going to hound her to death as they did his mother.
The couple took a well-deserved, six-week break from Royal duties, and Buckingham Palace confirmed the family was spending the holidays in Canada. In a statement, the palace said “the decision to base themselves in Canada reflects the importance of this Commonwealth country to both.”
Prince Harry, Meghan, and Archie, we’re all wishing you a quiet and blessed stay in Canada. You’re among friends, and always welcome here.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 21, 2019
Just as Queen Elizabeth is enjoying the longest reign as British monarch, Prince Charles has exceeded the longest stretch of time as heir-in-waiting, with 50 years elapsed since Charles was invested as Prince of Wales. But both the Queen and Charles celebrated milestone birthdays this past decade. The Queen turned 90 on April 21, 2016 even though her birthday is officially celebrated on June 8. Prince Charles had a number of parties, public and private, to celebrate his 70th on Nov. 14, 2018. The ruler and her No. 1 continue to maintain full schedules, although the Queen began to pass along a few key events to Charles to preside over, such as the laying of the wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. The question still remains about Charles’ popularity and how the British public will feel about the monarchy when he becomes king. While the public has warmed to the Prince of Wales in recent years — admiring his prescience on environmental matters and accepting Camilla into the royal fold — a spectre of controversy still looms with talk of the crown going straight to the beloved William after the Queen’s passing whispered in certain circles.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales was given a hand-made 70th birthday card as he opened The Dorchester Community Church in November 2018 in Dorset. Photo: Arthur Edwards/Getty Images
The celebration of the Queen’s 60th year on the throne made 2012 a very significant one in the royal household. Queen Victoria was the last to achieve the same tenure in 1897, so this was the biggest party Britain had thrown in more than a century. In addition to a Jubilee pageant in London and a triumphant boat cruise along the Thames, parties and fireworks were held and declarations were made across the Commonwealth. A special balcony appearance was notable for several reasons. First, Prince Charles’s wish that it just be the direct line — the Queen, Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, and Harry — signalled a “slimmed down” monarchy moving forward. And, as Prince Philip was ill with a bladder infection at the time (he did stand out in the rain during the boat cruise, and it was speculated Britain’s notably inclement weather may have contributed), he was also absent for the historic photo.
Prince Philip retires and the Queen’s Jubilee
The Diamond Jubilee marked the beginning of the Duke of Edinburgh’s withdrawal from public service. He officially retired in the summer of 2017 at age 96, having given some 5,496 official speeches in his decades as consort. The former navy officer and Admiral of the Fleet Field Marshal of the Royal Air Force made 637 solo visits on behalf of the Queen and attended a whopping 22,219 solo engagements. Months later, the royal couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on November 20, 2017.
When they married, Elizabeth was just 21 and Philip was 26, and England was rationing goods as Europe recovered from the Second World War. Their 1947 wedding was a highlight of the year, although they were careful to acknowledge the era’s austerity. This was a decade after the crisis created by her uncle David, briefly King Edward VIII — and later Duke of Windsor — when he abdicated the throne in 1936. The young princess and her prince charming married with the knowledge she was first in line to the throne, ascending to the throne only five short years and two children later.
Beset with health problems in the last couple of years — with Prince Charles saying things don’t work so well once you get to that age — the 98-year-old Prince Philip was hospitalized for four days just before Christmas, but was seen leaving the hospital on Christmas Eve under his own steam.
The Crown Premieres
In the middle of all the weddings and babies, our collective mania around the lore and intrigue of the British royal family went into overdrive with the premiere of The Crown in 2016. Created by British writer Peter Morgan, who sees the Royal family as his muse, he hit pay dirt first with the play The Audience, then with The Queen, a film that won Helen Mirren a Best Actress Oscar.
By going back in time to explore the recent history of the life of Queen Elizabeth II (an exercise often enhanced with dramatic license), the series created a “trend loop.” We were able to witness the current, real-life dramas while simultaneously bingeing on the Netflix period drama chronicling the early years of the Queen’s reign, from her wedding onwards. The arc of two storylines often intersected in a truly post-modern mashup: we saw the family struggle with public perception then and now, with how much emotion to share and how much and when to “modernize.” The crown indeed weighs as heavily on the small screen as it must in real life.
But through the use of dramatic technique, The Crown also inspired great sympathy for the real-life inhabitants of Britain’s palaces. At the same time internet pressure was borne by those palace dwellers, there arose this magical, compelling saga playing out on the small screen. The Queen has been part of our communal storyline for so long that the sense of retrospective gave us a new perspective on her (and the Royal family’s) meaning and place in our lives.
Prince Andrew Takes a Fall
The cloud of his association with Jeffrey Epstein has been hanging over Prince Andrew’s head for more than a decade. He lost his juicy, publicly funded, globe-trotting gig as special trade envoy for Britain in 2011 when news broke that he had kept up contact with the disgraced financier as recently as 2010 after Epstein’s conviction for prostitution with a minor. Epstein’s arrest this past summer and then his death by apparent suicide while in custody in New York for a second round of two charges, this time for sex-trafficking related to underage girls, brought the issue back to the forefront.
And those photos of Andrew—walking in Central Park with Epstein in 2010, and with his arm around Virginia Roberts Giuffre after an alleged night at Tramps Nightclub circa 2001—came home to roost. Giuffre spoke up about her claims that she had been forced to have sex with Andrew when she was 17. Andrew made the fatal decision to try to defend himself in the now-infamous BBC interview, where he came off as privileged and disingenuous. The Queen, reportedly advised by Charles and also William, acted swiftly to cut Andrew’s public roles as yacht clubs, schools and charities connected to the prince distanced themselves. In addition, Prince Andrew’s murky business ties are being scrutinized by the British press, leading to more questions about his business ethics. And as legal proceedings in the U.S. continue, it looks like Andrew may be dragged into a legal morass as the FBI continues to investigate the Epstein case.
20th Anniversary of Diana’s Death
It doesn’t seem possible that two decades have passed since Princess Diana’s death in a Paris underpass on Aug. 31, 1997. The collective grief changed the way we mourn public figures: the vast outpouring of anguish was virtually unprecedented. Her youth, beauty and the way she embraced modern celebrity meant Diana connected with people in life and united them in death. The tragedy also shaped her boys, and both of them have, to varying degrees, rejected the monarchy’s traditional “stiff upper lip” mandate to talk about their mental health struggles due to trauma and grief. Like their mother before them, they gave voice to real things people struggle with in their daily lives. The boys’ issues, and their openness, especially Harry’s, made them relatable. The monarchy learned a great deal from Diana’s death, particularly when the Queen’s slow reaction created a backlash of anger. Then this past summer, both Harry and William paid tribute to her charitable legacy on tours of Angola and Pakistan, respectively, places closely associated with Diana’s humanitarian work. For their part, Meghan and Kate both channeled the mother-in-law they never got the chance to meet, paying tribute with their patronages and their outfits. Diana, the original royal fashion plate, would have approved.