The royal family’s 2021 was a year of grief, troubles and health concerns

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The Queen sits alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen sits alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh the Sussexes’ bombshell Oprah interview and concern for the Queen’s health made 2021 a difficult year for the Windsors.

In March, royal patriarch Philip spent a month in hospital and underwent heart surgery before returning to Windsor, but he died peacefully at the castle at the age of 99 on April 9.

The Queen described it as a “period of great sadness” but said she was “deeply touched” by the tributes paid to her husband of 73 years and the support and kindness shown to her family.

A family photo, released after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, of Philip and the Queen at the top of the Coyles of Muick (Countess of Wessex/PA) (PA Media)
A family photo, released after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, of Philip and the Queen at the top of the Coyles of Muick (Countess of Wessex/PA) (PA Media)

At the duke’s funeral, amid Covid restrictions, the monarch poignantly sat alone in a face mask socially distanced from her loved ones, in mourning for Philip.

The Queen continued with her duties as head of state, and within weeks appeared in public for the State Opening of Parliament.

But she was grieving for the loss of her loyal consort against a backdrop of family drama.

The Land Rover Defender carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh is followed by members of the royal family (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Archive)
The Land Rover Defender carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh is followed by members of the royal family (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Archive)

While Philip was still in hospital, Harry and Meghan aired personal rifts on a public stage from California in their bombshell television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

They plunged the monarchy into crisis when they accused an unnamed royal of racism and said the institution failed to help the duchess when she was suicidal.

Winfrey was left opened mouthed when Meghan – the first mixed-race member of the modern monarchy – said a fellow royal was worried about how dark their son Archie’s skin tone might be before he was born.

Harry also said of his father, the Prince of Wales, “there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened”, and described his relationship with the Duke of Cambridge with whom he has a long-running rift, as “space”.

The UK national newspapers react to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah Winfrey interview (PA) (PA Archive)
The UK national newspapers react to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah Winfrey interview (PA) (PA Archive)

Meghan said the Duchess of Cambridge made her cry ahead of her wedding at a bridesmaid dress fitting – not the other way round.

In the aftermath, the Queen issued a statement saying “while some recollections may vary”, the issues would be taken “very seriously”, but dealt with privately as a family.

But, on a podcast and a mental health Apple TV series, Harry went on to accuse his family of “total neglect” and appeared to criticise the parenting skills of Charles, and the Queen and Philip, suggesting he had suffered “genetic pain”.

Meanwhile Meghan faced claims, which she denies, that she bullied royal staff, with The Times newspaper saying the duchess allegedly drove out two personal assistants and “humiliated” employees on several occasions.

Harry, whose tell-all memoir is due out in 2022, reunited with William in July for the unveiling of the long-awaited statue of their mother Diana Princess of Wales.

The Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex unveiling a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
The Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex unveiling a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

But the homecoming was brief with Harry swiftly heading back to the US.

The ceremony came in the wake of the Dyson report which found BBC journalist Martin Bashir was in “serious breach” of BBC guidelines when he interviewed Diana for her famous Panorama broadcast in 1995.

He faked bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother Earl Spencer to gain access to the princess.

William and Harry, in separate statements, condemned the BBC for its treatment of their mother, saying the interview fuelled her “fear, paranoia and isolation” and a wider “culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life”.

It was not the royal family’s only run-in with the BBC this year.

A BBC Two documentary, presented by Amol Rajan, which explored William and Harry’s relationship with the media, was criticised jointly by Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace for giving credibility to “overblown and unfounded claims”.

It included suggestions that negative stories about Meghan were leaked by courtiers and there was a competitiveness between households.

In response, Kate’s Christmas carol concert was switched from the BBC to ITV.

Kate at her Together at Christmas carol concert in Westminster Abbey (Heathcliff O’Malley/PA) (PA Wire)
Kate at her Together at Christmas carol concert in Westminster Abbey (Heathcliff O’Malley/PA) (PA Wire)

The scandal that engulfed the Queen’s second son the Duke of York, who was forced to step back from public duties in 2019, moved up a gear in 2021.

Andrew has faced mounting pressure and calls to answer the FBI’s questions following his “car crash” Newsnight interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

But in August, Virginia Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein, started legal action against Andrew for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager, which the duke categorically denies.

The Duke of York with his mother the Queen (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)
The Duke of York with his mother the Queen (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Lawyers for Ms Giuffre filed the civil suit seeking unspecified damages at a federal court in New York.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Cambridge has concentrated his efforts in 2021 on his environmental Earthshot Prize, while Kate reached 10 years as an HRH in April as the Cambridges marked a decade of marriage.

The duchess dazzled in a floor-length gold-caped Jenny Packham gown at the world premiere of the new Bond film No Time To Die in September.

The Duchess of Cambridge smiles upon her arrival for the world premiere of No Time To Die (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Wire)
The Duchess of Cambridge smiles upon her arrival for the world premiere of No Time To Die (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prince of Wales’s former closest aide Michael Fawcett quit in November after a string allegations of a cash for honours scandal, with the police facing pressure to investigate.

Mr Fawcett, who resigned as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation, co-ordinated with “fixers” over honours nominations for a Saudi billionaire donor to Charles’ charitable organisation.

He was also involved in directing money from Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz’s foundation to another charity of which Charles was previously patron.

The Prince of Wales with former key aide Michael Fawcett (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)
The Prince of Wales with former key aide Michael Fawcett (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

Meghan hit out at Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) after it lost an appeal against her privacy victory over a handwritten letter to her estranged father.

The duchess had apologised for misleading the court after stating she forgot she had authorised her then PR chief to brief the authors of the Finding Freedom biography about her and Harry, having previously denied this.

But the judges said this matter had no bearing on the appeal.

In the autumn, there was heightened concern for the Queen’s health.

After a busy run of engagements at the age of 95, she was secretly admitted to hospital on October 20 for an overnight stay for preliminary investigations, despite assurances from Buckingham Palace that she was resting at Windsor.

She cancelled a run of major engagements, including a trip to Northern Ireland and attending the Cop26 summit, and also missed Remembrance Sunday because of a sprained back.

The Queen in a video message to world leaders after she missed the Cop26 summit (Buckingham Palace/PA) (PA Media)
The Queen in a video message to world leaders after she missed the Cop26 summit (Buckingham Palace/PA) (PA Media)

Ordered to take it easy by her royal doctors, the Queen was advised to only carry out desk-bound responsibilities for, at first, a few days, and then the next two weeks.

But many weeks later, the monarch was still only conducting light duties.

With the Queen just five years away from her 100th birthday and the pandemic continuing, it appears to be a monarchy in transition, where seeing the Queen conducting video audiences from the confines of Windsor Castle has become the norm.

More than nine million people watched the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day.The monarch said there was “one familiar laugh missing” following the death of her “beloved Philip” and how his “mischievous, enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him”.

A man was arrested within the grounds of Windsor Castle on Christmas Day morning while in possession of a crossbow.

It came after The Duchess of Cambridge hosted Royal Carols: Together At Christmas at Westminster Abbey, as a thank you to the people who have supported their communities during the pandemic.

Kate hosted a service at Westminster Abbey (Alex Bramall/PA) (PA Wire)
Kate hosted a service at Westminster Abbey (Alex Bramall/PA) (PA Wire)

During the service, which aired on Christmas Eve, she played the piano and accompanied pop star Tom Walker for a performance.

There was also joy for the royal family in 2021 with a flurry of new great-grandchildren for the Queen – Princess Eugenie’s son August, Zara Tindall’s son Lucas, the Sussexes’ daughter Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor and Princess Beatrice’s daughter Sienna.

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