Diana didn’t ‘feel welcome’ at royal Christmas after ‘frosty’ greeting

Princess Diana photo is 'heartbreaking' says Thorp

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Christmas of 1992 was the climax of Queen Elizabeth II’s “annus horribilis” — the tempestuous 12 months that marked the late monarch’s 40th year on the throne, but also saw a royal divorce, two separations, and a fire at Windsor Castle. Barely a fortnight before Christmas Day, the then Prime Minister John Major announced that the Prince and Princess of Wales had separated, after years of scandals and secrets coming out in the press. Diana, Princess of Wales did not join the Royal Family for Christmas lunch in Norfolk that year, marking the first time her two sons Prince William and Prince Harry had opened their presents without their mother. Instead, she spent the majority of the festive season with her brother Charles — Earl Spencer — at their family home, Althorp, in Northamptonshire. It set a new, unfortunate precedent for the Christmases to come, which saw the Princess spend less and less time with the royals. 

According to Richard Kay, a columnist and friend of the late Princess of Wales, Diana didn’t always feel welcome at the Royal Family’s Christmas. 

In 1993, the Princess “did join the family at Sandringham on Christmas Eve, stayed overnight and went with everyone to church,” said Mr Kay. “But she didn’t stay for lunch. Instead, she went home alone to Kensington Palace and spent the rest of the day there before flying to Washington to stay with friends”. 

Writing for the Daily Mail in 2015, he said: “The same thing happened in 1994, but Diana felt she was given a ‘frosty’ reception by the other royals.” 

The journalist quoted one of the Princess’ friends who said: “Diana didn’t feel welcome at all. She could see how her being there just made everyone so tense and uneasy. She’d joined them for the sake of the boys, but it wasn’t really working.”

In keeping with tradition, the Royal Family attended a church service at St Mary’s Magdalene Church which sits on the Sandringham estate. 

The royals famously walk to the service and are greeted by crowds of fans. Afterwards, they return to Sandringham House for Christmas lunch. 

However, that year, “within 30 minutes of the church service ending,” Diana “was at the wheel of her dark green Jaguar speeding back to London”. 

Mr Kay wrote: “It wasn’t just that she wanted to put miles between herself and her estranged husband: Diana also had a ‘date’. Or so she thought. She was due to spend the afternoon at a homeless refuge in East London serving Christmas dinners. But despite choosing an out-of-the-way centre on the Isle of Dogs, photographers had been tipped off and the princess felt forced to cancel.

“‘If I had been photographed as some sort of lady bountiful, my husband’s family would have been in uproar, accusing me of a stunt,’ she later confided.”

Less than 12 months later came the airing of her interview with the BBC’s Panorama, an explosive moment that saw the Princess open up about her struggles as a member of the Royal Family. She admitted to engaging in an affair with James Hewitt and questioned her estranged husband’s suitability to be King. 

The interview “hung over the festive season like a shroud,” according to Mr Kay, who said: “Diana just couldn’t bring herself to appear, even for the church service on Christmas morning.” 

It has since been revealed that Martin Bashir, the journalist who secured the tell-all, used deceitful methods to lure the Princess into sitting down with him.  

By all accounts, the interview was the trigger for Queen Elizabeth II to ultimately urge her eldest son and his wife to divorce.

Before the family came together to celebrate Christmas, the late monarch had sent letters to the couple. Written “with a heavy heart”, Her Majesty informed “them that, in her opinion, they should divorce”. 

While the family went to church as usual that Christmas Day in 1995, Diana was alone at her Kensington Palace apartment. “She told friends it would be ‘intolerable’ to be at Sandringham because of the family’s hostility towards her over Panorama,” wrote Mr Kay. “She had asked William and Harry what they thought about her plan to stay away, and they were crestfallen, but they said they understood. She also phoned the Queen to say she felt everyone would be more comfortable if she didn’t attend.”

However, the Queen — who was known to cherish her Christmases at Sandringham, not only as a family tradition but also as an event of importance for the country — demurred, trying to persuade the Princess to join them. 

“The conversation was brief, but cordial, and Diana stuck to her guns,” Mr Kay said. “As she later quipped to a friend: ‘I’d have gone up there (to Sandringham) in a BMW and come out in a coffin’ — a rueful reference to the ‘killing looks’ she felt she got from certain members of the family, especially the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.”

The journalist suggested the late Queen likely was relieved by Diana’s absence, saying: “She, too, had felt the tension.” 

Diana and Charles divorced in the summer of 1996, and she again spent Christmas alone while her sons were at Sandringham with the rest of the family. It was unknown then but it would be her last Christmas.  

In August 1997, Diana was killed in a car incident in Paris. That year, the Queen in her Christmas message spoke of her “shock and horror” at her former daughter-in-law’s death, describing Diana’s funeral as “almost unbearably sad”. 

Recalling the family gathering at Sandringham in December 1997, one former courtier described a “rather strained” atmosphere, with “the Queen doing her best to generate a cheerful atmosphere for the sake of the boys”. 

This year will mark the Royal Family’s first Christmas without Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and in a tribute to his mother, King Charles III will reportedly be spending time at Sandringham. 

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