Opinion: Why 2020 has been the worst year ever for the royals

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·6-min read

OPINION

When the Queen declared 1992 an “annus horribilis” for the royal family, the monarch may have reserved judgement if she’d known what 2020 had in store for the Windsors.

Back then, a fire at Windsor Castle, three royal divorces and a toe-sucking incident were cause for her consternation.

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she said of the 12 months that saw 100 rooms at Windsor Castle destroyed, and the acrimonious splits of Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie, and Anne and Mark. Add to that the appearance of photos of Fergie sunbathing topless with her lover, Diana publishing a tell-all book revealing details of Charles and Camilla’s affair, and being pelted by eggs during a state visit to Germany, it’s no wonder she thought things couldn’t get much worse.

 Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Princess Beatrice, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Camilla, Duchess Of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, Savannah Phillips, Prince George of Cambridge and Isla Phillips stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour parade on June 9, 2018 in London, England.
2020 has been a rollercoaster year for the royal family. Photo: Getty Images

In her 2019 Christmas speech, the Queen admitted the year had been “quite bumpy.” This was perhaps an understatement, given it was the year that Andrew – her reportedly favourite son - appeared on national television where he was grilled about his relationship with his disgraced former friend Jeffrey Epstein, who was exposed as a child sex offender.

The interview, which was done without her Majesty’s approval, was supposed to ingratiate Andrew to the public. It did the opposite; three days later the palace announced Andrew would step down from all 230 of his patronages.

Megxit

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend the 2018 Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on March 12, 2018 in London, England.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle quit their roles as senior royals and moved to LA. Photo: Getty Images

2019 was also the year that Harry and Meghan started to publicly express how unhappy they were with their royal lives; they launched legal action against a UK tabloid for “unlawfully” publishing a private letter, and Meghan admitted to it being a “struggle” behind the scenes with press attention that suggested she’d caused a rift between Harry and his big brother William.

But if 2019 was “quite bumpy”, then 2020 has been a case of severe turbulence for the royals.

The tone was set from early January when Harry and Meghan came back from their Christmas holidays and announced they were “stepping down as senior royals.”

The Queen was said to be blindsided by the announcement, reportedly “hurt” and “disappointed” she hadn’t been consulted about their plans. Her comeback was terse. “Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” her statement read. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

The rift between the Sussexes and the rest of the family has only deepened throughout the year. The much anticipated release of Finding Freedom in August brought with it salacious details.

It accused William of snobbery towards Meghan, of Kate of not “bridging the divide” between the two families, and of royal staff looking down on Meghan. In other words, all the work the younger royals have done over the past decade to modernise the monarchy and make themselves more relatable, was ruined.

Although Meghan and Harry initially denied any input into the tome, last month court documents revealed Meghan had allowed a friend to speak to the authors of the book. Her confession solidified the family divide; the brothers reportedly haven’t spoken for months and have a long way to go before repairing their formerly close relationship.

Prince Andrew’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew, Duke of York attend church at St Mary the Virgin church at Hillington in Sandringham on January 19, 2020 in King's Lynn, England
Prince Andrew was questioned over his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. Photo: Getty Images

In May this year, the Queen made another attempt to quieten down the increasing royal problem that is Andrew. He was removed from all royal duties amidst ongoing rumblings that he will have to be formally questioned over his involvement with Jeffrey Epstein.

When Epstein’s ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in July, there were rumblings Andrew would be extradited to the US, in order to answer questions about the couple’s actions. This hasn’t happened yet, but the situation is going from bad to worse for Andrew.

In October, Maxwell’s 2016 deposition was unsealed, and Andrew’s name was matched to certain parts of the redaction. Although there wasn’t much new detail, it’s yet another nail in the coffin for his royal career.

Even a happy occasion such as his daughter Princess Beatrice’s wedding in July was marred by Andrew’s association. The official wedding pictures released didn’t have him anywhere in sight – a glaring omission that demonstrates how dangerous he’s become to the reputation of the royal family. The pictures highlight the Duke of York’s "spectacular fall from grace" – and are a signal from the Queen that she understands the necessity of excluding him.

Royals tests positive for COVID-19

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge wears a face mask as he visits St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, to mark the launch of the nationwide 'Hold Still' community photography project on October 20, 2020.
Prince William and Prince Charles contracted COVID-19. Photo: Getty Images

A constant backdrop to 2020’s royal scandals has been COVID-19. Prince Charles “got away lightly” after contracting it, and Prince William contracted it in April, and “was left struggling to breathe.”

William kept his diagnosis a secret – a decision he’s been blasted for. The palace went so far to deny he had it, leaving many wondering what else the royal family has lied about.

The Queen and Prince Philip isolated together for months at Windsor Castle, forcing her to withdraw from public duties for the longest time in her 68-year reign. Although she appeared in public for a socially distanced Remembrance Sunday service, it’s believed it may be too risky for the 94-year old monarch to ever return to a full schedule of public duties.

The Crown opens old wounds for Charles and Camilla

Camilla Duchess of Cornwall arrives in Royal heirloom diamond tiara, necklace and earrings, with Prince Charles The Prince of Wales at a banquet in Buckingham Palace on October 25, 2005 in London, England.
The Crown has lead to Prince Charles and Camilla being trolled online. Photo: Getty Images

Charles and Camilla have also had a bad year. After years of Camilla being viewed as “the other woman” in Charles and Diana’s marriage, a carefully crafted PR campaign over the past almost two decades has repaired her public image.

This has been undone in a matter of weeks, after the fourth season of The Crown has focused on their love triangle.

Trolls have inundated Charles and Camilla’s social media accounts, forcing them to disable comments on their Twitter and Instagram accounts, and their recent trip to Germany was overshadowed by the public sentiment towards them.

As 2020 draws to a close, the royals must be hoping that 2021 will bring some good news. But next year’s calendar doesn’t look much better; Ghislane Maxwell’s trial is due, no doubt bringing Andrew to the fore of the scandal; Harry and Meghan’s privacy court case will take place towards the end of the year; and the report on the coercion of Diana by journalist Martin Bashir to secure her now infamous 1995 interview will be released, opening old wounds for both William and Harry.

If 2019 was bumpy and 2020 was turbulent for the royal family, it looks like 2021 could be explosive.

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