Annus horribilis – it’s a phrase she famously used 29 years ago to describe a shocking year when fire swept through her beloved Windsor Castle and the marriages of three of her children imploded.
But 2021 may well rival the miseries of 1992. Death, divorce, health problems, an ongoing sex scandal, family fallouts, allegations of racism – all this and more affected Queen Elizabeth.
A documentary called 2021: The Queen’s Horrible Year even aired in the UK in November, detailing the calamities that have befallen the most famous family in the world.
However, Charles Anson, her former press secretary, believes the difficulties of the past 12 months haven’t weakened the monarchy – if anything, they have made it stronger.
READ MORE | Why aides and insiders are urging the queen to slow down – and what she's likely to do about it
“The strength of our monarchy is that it is able to adapt,” he says in the doccie. “It’s changing and I think providing the values are still there, it often changes for the better.”
And the shoulders many of the values rest on are the tiny ones belonging to the 95-year-old monarch. Stewart Purvis, a former TV executive and documentary producer, says the queen has covered herself in glory this year. “She has lost her husband and she has a grandson who is semi-detached.
“But she has symbolised so much of what we hope for from a royal family that, in a sense.”
Veteran British journalist Andrew Neil agrees that Her Majesty has led with flair this year. “She has been a figure of love for the nation as well as a figure of common sense. That wasn’t always true in previous crises. This time she has come through with flying colours.”
Fortunately for the queen, there were ups among the downs. As she prepares for what will hopefully be a peaceful Christmas break, we look at the year that was – and peek ahead into 2022 where, hopefully, the path will be paved with platinum.
FEBRUARY: A NEW ROYAL BABY – FOLLOWED BY CONCERN FOR PHILIP
The queen was delighted by the arrival of her ninth great-grandchild on 9 February – Arthur Philip Hawke Brooksbank, the first child for her granddaughter Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank.
The baby’s second name is a touching tribute to his great-grandfather – who, barely a week after Arthur’s birth, was admitted to London’s King Edward VII's hospital for treatment for an infection and a pre-existing heart condition.
Prince Philip was later transferred to St Bartholomew’s Hospital where he underwent surgery. After four weeks in hospital, a gaunt and frail-looking Duke of Edinburgh was pictured returning home to Windsor Castle. According to sources he wanted to die “in his own bed” and “on his own terms”.
MARCH: THE SUSSEXES’ BOMBSHELL OPRAH INTERVIEW
Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, stunned the world during their explosive sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey in California. Harry accused the monarchy of racism, saying a member of the royal family had made remarks when Meghan was pregnant with son Archie. “There were concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born,” he said.
Harry also accused the family of emotional neglect by failing to address his and Meghan’s mental health needs – particularly his wife’s. Meghan backed this up, saying she felt so unsupported by “the institution” that she contemplated suicide while expecting Archie.
Harry admitted he didn’t tell the family about his wife’s troubles because it would be pointless. “The family very much have this mentality of ‘this is how it is’.”
The queen was said to be “highly upset” about the allegations, especially as she’d always enjoyed a close relationship with Harry.
READ MORE | A family torn apart: how Prince Harry's 'truth bombs' left the palace reeling
Her official response, however, was gracious if a little terse. “The whole family is saddened to learn of the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” she said.
“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
But the damage was far-reaching. Prince William was reportedly furious about his brother’s accusations and the yawning rift between them widened – something that also upset the queen.
“She finds it regrettable that her grandsons, once close, are on such separate paths,” a royal insider said.
MARCH: ANOTHER ROYAL ARRIVAL
Her Majesty’s eldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips, welcomed her third child with husband Mike Tindall, a little boy they named Lucas Philip.
His middle name was a heartwarming nod to Zara’s grandfather as well as Mike’s father, Philip Tindall.
APRIL: THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH DIES
The queen bid farewell to her husband of more than 73 years on 9 April when he passed away peacefully at Windsor Castle – in his own bed, as he wanted – in the early hours of the morning.
According to royal sources, she reportedly called her children and several of her grandchildren, including William and Harry, to personally relay the sad news before it was made public. Philip’s funeral on 17 April at Windsor Castle was an intimate and heartrending affair.
READ MORE | Queen’s daughter-in-law Sophie says Prince Philip’s death ‘left a giant-sized hole’ in the family
With only 30 guests allowed due to Covid restrictions and strict social distancing measures, Her Majesty sat alone in a pew, a frail figure in mourning black. The image touched millions of hearts and was a stark reminder that Her Majesty was without her “strength and stay” and had to face her remaining years without the man who’d helped hold the royal family together.
In a sign of her deep love for her husband, she left a handwritten note next to a special wreath of white roses and lilies she chose on top of his coffin. She signed it Lilibet – the childhood nickname Philip still called her by.
APRIL: FAREWELL TO A BELOVED FRIEND
In a double dose of heartbreak, the queen learnt of the death of her close friend on the day of Philip’s funeral.
Sir Michael Oswald (86), who succumbed to a long illness, was her longtime racing adviser and was regularly pictured next to her at racing events such as Ascot. His wife, Lady Angela, was also Her Majesty’s former lady-in-waiting.
MAY: A PUPPY PASSES AWAY TOO
The queen was reportedly devastated when Fergus, her five-month-old dorgi (dachshund-corgi mix) puppy, died.
The pup was one of two given to her for comfort by Prince Andrew in February after Philip went into hospital. The animal reportedly died from a heart defect which it had from birth.
JUNE: PETER PHILLIPS’ MARRIAGE IS OVER
If Her Majesty had hoped for any kind of reconciliation between her eldest grandson and his estranged wife, Autumn Kelly, it was dashed when their divorce was finalised.
According to palace insiders, the breakdown of their marriage was particularly painful for the queen. While Peter has long been said to be her favourite grandson, she’s also enjoyed a close friendship with Canadian-born Autumn and they’ve been pictured attending church together in the past.
JUNE: LILIBET NAME SAGA
What started out as a happy occasion – the birth of Harry and Meghan’s second child on 4 June and the queen’s 11th great-grandchild – soon turned into drama when it emerged the couple had named their daughter Lilibet after the queen’s childhood nickname.
READ MORE | The name, the birth, the hope: all about Harry and Meghan's little Lilibet
A BBC report quoted a palace insider saying they hadn’t asked Her Majesty for permission to use the intimate name. Harry and Meghan immediately denied the report.
Their spokesperson said the queen was “the first person the duke called” after the birth. “During that conversation he shared their hope of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honour. Had she not been supportive they would not have used the name.”
JUNE: HER MAJESTY ATTENDS THE G7 SUMMIT
The queen put personal heartache and hardship aside when she hosted a dinner for state leaders at the important G7 Summit in Cornwall and posed with presidents and prime ministers for a socially distanced group photo. She was also all smiles when she had American president Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, for tea at Windsor Castle.
Afterwards Biden described her as being “extremely gracious”. “She reminded me of my mother in terms of the look of her and just the generosity.”
JULY: HARRY’S TELL-ALL BOOK
Harry once again sent shockwaves through the monarchy when he announced he’d be releasing his memoir in 2022.
READ MORE | Why Prince Harry's book bombshell is the last thing the queen needs
The book will be the first of a lucrative four-book publishing deal he struck with Penguin Random House and Harry has described it as “a wholly truthful first-hand account” of his life.
It’s feared the book could put a dampener on the queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations next year.
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER: PRINCE ANDREW IS SUED
Prince Andrew continued to pour shame on his family when he was sued by Virginia Giuffre, the most outspoken of paedophile and convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s victims.
Virginia filed a civil lawsuit in New York against the royal, saying he sexually assaulted her three times while she was 17 and underage. In a bid to avoid legal summonses, Andrew fled to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to stay with his mother.
Critics have slammed Andrew for “being a burden” to the queen and called his behaviour “shameful”.
“I think it is very embarrassing for her to have her 61-year-old son essentially hiding behind her tartan skirt up there in Balmoral,” royal expert Jennie Bond said. A US judge has set a January date for a hearing into Virginia’s claims. Andrew has continued to deny all accusations.
SEPTEMBER: YET ANOTHER GREAT-GRANDCHILD
2021 was a bumper baby year for the monarch, who welcomed her 12th great-grandchild, a baby girl named Sienna, on 18 September. The tot is the first child for Princess Beatrice, and her Italian husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: CONCERNS FOR THE QUEEN
The queen triggered fear in the hearts of her subjects and fans when it emerged she’d spent a night in a London hospital on 20 October – although Buckingham Palace was quick to play down concern.
“Following medical advice to rest for a few days, she attended hospital for some preliminary investigations. She returned to Windsor Castle at lunchtime today and remains in good spirits,” a statement read.
She was placed under strict orders by her doctors to take things easier and to reduce her punishing schedule, which saw her carrying out a staggering 120 official appointments in 194 days following Philip’s death.
Her enforced rest saw her having to cancel a number of engagements, including a trip to Northern Ireland as well as an appearance at the Cop26 Summit in Scotland. She later also missed Remembrance Day proceedings – one of the most important days on her calendar – because of a strained back.
For the notoriously busy monarch, for whom duty is everything, rest doesn’t come naturally. But she has heeded her doctors’ warning. “She wants to keep herself in tip-top shape to return to her duties,” royal commentator Robert Hardman says. “She absolutely loves the job. For her its life-affirming.”
She has since resumed work, but at a slower pace, and delivered her message to the United Nations Climate Change Summit, which she originally was going to attend, virtualy.
2022: ONWARD AND UPWARD
The queen is “very much looking forward” to her platinum jubilee to mark her record-breaking 70 years on the throne, royal insiders say.
The four-day event, set down for June and believed to cost between £10 million (R210m) and £15 million (R315m), will include a huge Platinum Pageant through the streets of London which will showcase the story of the queen’s reign complete with high-tech designs and artistry.
The likes of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Ed Sheeran are reportedly being lined up to perform. It will also include Trooping the Colour, which will be staged in full at Buckingham Palace for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and a service of Thanksgiving for the queen’s reign at St Paul’s Cathedral.
“She hopes that as many people as possible will have the opportunity to join the celebrations.”
Sources: mirror.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk, vanityfair.com, independent.co.uk, express.co.uk, goodto.com, observer.com