What the royal family got up to in 2020

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·9-min read

The royal family experienced a year like no other in 2020 as the coronavirus crisis swept the country.

The Queen and her relatives quickly adjusted to a new way of working in lockdown, carrying out royal duties via video call or later socially distanced as they sought to boost morale in difficult times.

The royal family
The royal family speaking to nurses for International Nurses Day (Kensington Palace/PA)

Investitures, state visits and long-haul foreign tours were put on hold and annual favourites such as the traditional Trooping the Colour, the Order of the Garter ceremony and Buckingham Palace garden parties were deemed unsafe.

Such unprecedented times saw the Queen make not one but two rare televised addresses to the nation just weeks apart, telling a troubled country in lockdown: “We will meet again.”

Even the nation’s longest reigning monarch acknowledged: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different.”

The Queen
An image of the Queen and quotes from her broadcast in April on the coronavirus pandemic are displayed on lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus (Yui Mok/PA)

In her second speech to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, she told how the message at the end of the war in Europe was “never give up, never despair”.

The Duke of Edinburgh stepped briefly out of retirement to praise key workers and to attend a military handover ceremony as he stayed with the Queen and a reduced number of 20 staff at Windsor Castle in what was dubbed HMS Bubble.

He was photographed with the Queen to mark his 99th birthday in June, and again for their 73rd wedding anniversary in November, when they received a colourful card made by their great-grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Royal wedding anniversary
The Queen and Philip looking at their homemade wedding anniversary card by the Cambridge children (Chris Jackson/Buckingham Palace/PA)

Both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge caught coronavirus and recovered.

Along with the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, they kept busy with virtual messages to charities.

The royals opened NHS Nightingale hospitals online and carried out face-to-face engagements with key workers when it became possible.

William and Kate at Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visiting Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn as part of the NHS birthday celebrations (Joe Giddens/PA)

The Queen took part in her first ever official video conference call as part of her public royal duties in June.

She wore a mask in public for the first time in November when she visited the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of his burial.

The month before, the pressure group Republic criticised her for going without a face covering when she visited the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down – her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since the pandemic gripped the nation.

Queen Elizabeth II marks centenary of burial of Unknown Warrior
The Queen during a ceremony in London’s Westminster Abbey (Aaron Chown/PA)

William, Kate, George, Charlotte and Louis joined in clapping for carers at Anmer Hall in Norfolk during lockdown.

They delivered fresh pasta to those in need, Kate joked about the trials of home schooling and George, Charlotte and Louis put their animal questions to Sir David Attenborough.

The duke took part in a Blackadder sketch with Stephen Fry for the BBC’s The Big Night In.

The Windsors also endured some of their most turbulent problems in recent history – with the messy Megxit saga.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sparked a major royal crisis in January with a bombshell statement saying they intended to stop being senior royals, earn their own money and still support the Queen.

But the dual role was unworkable.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend the Endeavour Fund Awards
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards – one of their final royal engagements (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Queen held a summit at Sandringham to deal with the crisis and the outcome was a hard Megxit.

At the end of March, less than two years after they wed, Harry and Meghan quit as working royals completely and stopped using their HRH styles.

They have since settled into a new life in Montecito in California, bought an £11 million house, secured lucrative multimillion-pound deals with Netflix and Spotify, volunteered during the Covid-19 crisis and been working on their Archewell foundation.

Meghan gave an impassioned black lives matter speech to her old high school about the death of George Floyd in the US.

But controversy has not been far away.

Harry was criticised for political interference after he urged people in the US to “reject hate speech” and vote in the presidential election.

The duke and duchess were also accused of staging a publicity stunt after they invited a fashion photographer to take pictures of them at a national cemetery in LA to mark Remembrance Sunday.

In August, a new biography, Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, revisited the rift between Harry and William.

The book said Harry was angered by what he perceived as his brother’s “snobbish” attitude to Meghan, and Kate was accused of not reaching out to Meghan and of snubbing her at the Sussexes’ final public engagement at Westminster Abbey.

Harry and Meghan
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Westminster Abbey for their final engagement before quitting as working royals (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Sussexes denied co-operating with the authors.

But court documents from Meghan’s ongoing legal action against the Mail on Sunday’s publisher over a letter she wrote to her estranged father Thomas Markle revealed she allowed an unnamed individual to speak to Scobie and Durand to prevent “further misinformation” about her relationship with Mr Markle.

The Sussexes’ son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor celebrated his first birthday, with Meghan reading the boisterous youngster the children’s book Duck! Rabbit! in a video for Save the Children UK.

But the couple also experienced heartache, with Meghan revealing in a newspaper article in November that she had suffered a miscarriage in the summer, writing: “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”

Pressure on the Duke of York to speak to the US authorities intensified when his socialite friend Ghislaine Maxwell was charged in July with procuring teenage girls for paedophile Jeffrey Epstein to abuse.

The duke has faced claims, which he categorically denies, that he slept with Virginia Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein, three times including when she was 17, still a minor under US law.

There was sadness for the Queen when her close friend and cousin Lady Elizabeth Shakerley died, and then the monarch’s dog Vulcan, leaving her with just one left – Candy the dorgi.

The Queen
The Queen leaving Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle ahead of the first lockdown with one of her dorgis (Aaron Chown/PA)

Meanwhile, Netflix’s The Crown ventured too close for comfort for some as season four introduced the Princess of Wales and explored her troubled life and relationship with Charles.

Diana’s sensational 25-year-old BBC Panorama interview became the focus of a new independent inquiry headed by Lord Dyson, former Master of the Rolls.

The princess’s brother Earl Spencer alleged journalist Martin Bashir showed him fake financial documents to get access to Diana, which suggested that royal staff were being paid by the security services to spy on her.

Amid the challenges of 2020, there were moments of joy.

Princess Beatrice, who postponed her wedding because of the Covid-19 outbreak, married Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in a secret lockdown ceremony in July, with the Queen loaning her granddaughter a vintage gown for her big day.

Princess Beatrice's wedding
Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi’s wedding day (Benjamin Wheeler/PA)

Princess Eugenie is expecting a baby, as is another of the Queen’s granddaughters Zara Tindall, and the Princess Royal turned 70.

The Queen celebrated her 94th birthday and marked her official one with a mini Trooping the Colour at Windsor with a unique socially distanced tribute from the military.

She also knighted veteran fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore in a special personal investiture in the grounds of the castle.

The Queen
Captain Sir Thomas Moore receives his knighthood from the Queen (Chris Jackson/PA)

William launched his £50 million environmental Earthshot Prize, and Kate unveiled landmark research on the crucial role that early years play.

George, Charlotte and Louis clambered over the duke in a sweet photograph released to mark Father’s Day – which coincided with William’s birthday.

Camilla unveiled a plaque with the help of her dog Beth, who grabbed a sausage attached to a curtain to carry out the royal duty.

Duchess of Cornwall visits Battersea Dogs and Cats Home
The Duchess of Cornwall with Beth, her Jack Russell terrier, unveiling a plaque at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Cambridges went on a festive royal train tour around England, Scotland and Wales in December to thank key workers and communities.

But Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested William and Kate travelled to Edinburgh despite their office being made aware of restrictions on cross-border movement.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's royal train tour
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are met at Edinburgh Waverley Station (Andy Barr/PA)

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said he would prefer it if “no-one was having unnecessary visits”.

At their final destination – Windsor – William and Kate had a royal reunion with the Queen, Charles, Camilla, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Anne at an outdoor Christmas carol concert.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge royal train tour
The Queen talks with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the quadrangle at Windsor Castle (Glyn Kirk/PA)

It was the first time the eight royals had been pictured side by side – albeit socially distanced – since before the first lockdown, and came ahead of what is expected to be a quiet Christmas Day for the Queen and Philip together – without their family.