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2021: The year that changed the Royal Family forever

The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Harry and Meghan
This has been one of the most tumultuous years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign (Picture: Getty/AP/Reuters)

It’s no exaggeration to say the Royal Family changed forever in 2021.

Things rarely stay quiet for long where the House of Windsor is concerned – but this year has been of a different order altogether.

On a personal level, the past 12 months have been tumultuous and heartbreaking.

From a public perspective, the inner workings of the Royal Family have come under scrutiny more so than at any point since the mid-1990s.

These developments have been overshadowed in recent months by lingering questions over the health of the 95-year-old Queen.

The institution goes into 2022 in very different shape to how it began the year, and with a couple of familiar faces no longer at the table.

It would appear the next 12 months could be equally eventful but, for now, take a look back at an extraordinary year for the Royal Family.

A year the Royal Family will never forget

2021 got under way with some good news: the Queen and Prince Philip were vaccinated at Windsor Castle. Buckingham Palace went against protocol to reveal the private medical news.

It was also reported that a ‘one-year review’ of the new arrangements with Harry and Meghan was scrapped because it was felt the ‘situation was working well’. There’d be a bit more on that to come.

The first of four royal babies born this year arrived on February 9. Princess Eugenie’s son, August Philip Hawke Brooksbank, was 11th in line to the throne the day he was born.

On Valentine’s Day, Harry and Meghan announced they too were expecting a baby. Another announcement came the following day, one which would send shockwaves through the Royal Family: the couple had booked a date with Oprah Winfrey.

On February 17, Buckingham Palace revealed Prince Philip had been taken to hospital and was kept in for a number of nights.

Clips from the Oprah interview began to drop. Any delay while Prince Philip was unwell was ruled out.

On March 8, the full interview was aired in the UK and all hell broke loose. Chief among the accusations were that Meghan was driven to suicidal thoughts and that a senior member of the Royal Family had enquired about the skin tone of Meghan’s unborn child.

It prompted an unprecedented conversation about attitudes within the Royal Family and forced a concession from Buckingham Palace that Meghan’s accusations were ‘concerning’.

Kate Middleton was praised for her public response to the murder of Sarah Everard. Meanwhile, Prince Philip was discharged from hospital amid the Oprah furore and the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall gave birth to a boy, Lucas Philip Tindall.

The fallout of the bombshell interview continued into April, with claims and briefings on all sides – but on April 9, news came from the palace that stopped the rolling row in its tracks.

Prince Philip, who had been at the Queen’s side for 73 years, was dead at 99. From being smuggled out of Greece during a revolution as a baby, to serving in the navy through the Second World War, then marrying the heir to the British throne and accompanying the Queen through her record-breaking reign, he led an extraordinary life. 

In a brief cessation of hostilities, Harry returned from the US alone for his grandfather’s funeral, which was slimmed down due to Covid-19 restrictions. A picture of the Queen sitting alone during the service in grief-stricken isolation was enough to puncture the heart of even the sternest republican.

By mid-May, Harry was once again back in the headlines after discussing his upbringing on a podcast, saying ‘genetic suffering’ had been passed on through his parents.

He was criticised by some given the recent death of Prince Philip but praised by others for opening up about the mental health impact of life in the Royal Family. In another interview later that month, he said he had experienced ‘total neglect’ after the death of his mother in 1997.

Prince William responded forcefully after the BBC admitted its reporter Martin Bashir had acted in a ‘deceitful’ way to obtain an interview in 1995 during which she publicly accused Prince Charles of having an affair. It brought to an end a sad episode which her brother believes ultimately set in motion a chain of events which led to her death.

June was an altogether more straightforward month for the Royal Family, despite the fallout of the Harry and Meghan interview rumbling on and more news of their business and media plans emerging. The pair announced some less contentious news early in the month: Meghan had given birth to their second child, Lilibet, on June 6.

On June 10, the Queen privately marked what would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday. 

Harry returned to the UK on July 1 and reunited with William for the unveiling of a statue of Princess Diana at Kensington Palace. It marks the last time he was in the UK. There were reports of ‘crisis talks’ between the pair during a rare face-to-face meeting.

But news broke later in the month that seemed to snuff out any lingering hopes of a reconciliation: Harry was writing a book. The Duke of Sussex signed a multi-million pound deal with Random House to produce a memoir to be released in late 2022 which promises to be an unflinching account of his life. Buckingham Palace was said to have been ‘blindsided’ by the news. It effectively confirms the saga is going to run on well into 2022.

By 2021, Prince Andrew had already been well and truly sidelined after having to apologise for his association with the convicted child abuser Jeffrey Epstein.

News broke in the US that Virginia Giuffre, a victim of Epstein’s trafficking ring, was suing Andrew in a New York court for allegedly sexually assaulting her. Prince Andrew has consistently strenuously denied all allegations and says he has no recollection of meeting his accuser.

Ms Giuffre claimed she ‘feared death or physical injury to herself or another and other repercussions for disobeying Epstein, Maxwell, and Prince Andrew due to their powerful connections, wealth and authority’. A legal tug of war played out throughout August, with Ms Giuffre’s legal team claiming Andrew was ‘stonewalling’.

On September 22 and after a weeks-long legal tussle, Prince Andrew’s lawyers accepted he had been officially served with the lawsuit papers, effectively firing the starting pistol on the case.

He spent much of the month at Balmoral with ex-wife Sarah Ferguson and has not publicly responded to recent developments.

There were bombshell claims from sources close to Prince William that the door to a royal return for Prince Andrew was closed for good.

The reports echoed similar comments apparently from the Prince of Wales’ camp the previous month. Charles, who is said to favour a slimmed down Royal Family when he succeeds the Queen, reportedly sees no way back for his brother.

Princess Beatrice and her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi welcomed another royal baby, daughter Sienna Elizabeth.

The Queen began October by making a series of high-profile engagements, of which there had been few without Philip because of Covid-19 restrictions. She seemed in fine form but on October it emerged the Queen had spent the night in hospital for tests relating to an unspecified condition.

She was ordered by doctors to rest up for a couple of weeks but continued to make appearances via video link. It was reported she was ‘knackered’ from her jam-packed schedule.

Health concerns surrounding the Queen continued but on November 1 she issued one of the most direct messages of her long reign. Following the lead of Charles and William, the Queen urged delegates at the Glasgow climate summit to shelve ‘politics’ and achieve ‘statesmanship’. The ‘green Queen’ showed at 95 she could still surprise.

Her planned return to in-person public duties for Remembrance Sunday was scrapped because she was suffering from a ‘sprained back’ according to Buckingham Palace.

With the Queen still on limited public duties because of health concerns, the usual Christmas celebration at Sandringham was cancelled in favour of a scaled back event at Windsor. But the low key gathering was marred by an intruder armed with a crossbow who was apprehended climbing into the grounds.

Earlier on Christmas Day, the Queen’s annual message was broadcast. She spoke at length about her late husband in one of the most personal messages she has ever given during her reign.

But the year ended with more negative headlines surrounding the Royal Family. The conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell, a long-time associate of Prince Andrew, for involvement in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex ring once again put the Duke of York’s legal troubles centre stage.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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