Palace officials are working on plans for a small team of advisers and servants to move in a bubble with her and Prince Philip from Windsor Castle to the 20,000-acre royal estate in Norfolk for the festive season. Some key support staff at Sandringham, including cleaners, laundry and maintenance workers, have proved reluctant to isolate from their families to be able to work around the 94-year-old monarch, who has been taking special precautions since March because of the risk of catching coronavirus.
That means some domestic staff at Windsor in what has been nicknamed HMS Bubble may have to move with her, along with private secretaries and other senior advisers.
She and her senior aides have still not formally decided where she will spend Christmas yet. A decision is expected in early December.
Courtiers continue to work on the assumption, however, that the monarch will want to carry on the tradition of spending Christmas at Sandringham, something she has done since 1988.
The court usually moves there from just before Christmas until shortly after February 6, the day she acceded to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI.
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Staff will be able to support her because the court is a place of work. But it will not be a normal royal Christmas, wherever she spends it.
Traditionally, the Windsor clan descends en masse to the Sandringham estate on Christmas Day, attending church together and most enjoying lunch together at Sandringham House and a shoot on Boxing Day.
But, like the rest of the nation, the Queen and her relatives will have to stick to the Government’s coronavirus rules allowing just three households to mix during a five-day period between December 23 and 27 without shifting from one group to another.
As the Daily Express reported in October, informed sources believe it is highly unlikely that the Queen will go to church on Christmas Day, even though churches are allowed to open, because of the risk of attracting crowds to Sandringham and putting people at risk of contracting the virus.
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“If it becomes known that they are going to church, people will come and try to see them,” one source said. “The problem is the estate is open to the public.”
In the summer the Queen and Philip went to Balmoral Castle, determined to continue their tradition of a break at their Highland retreat. But the Queen avoided going to services at Crathie Kirk, fearing it would attract crowds.
At Sandringham on Christmas Day around 2,000 people usually gather in a field to see the Royal Family walk from the big house down to St Mary Magadelene Church on the estate. And although the gates to the field can be locked the public can still see over the wall.
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Royal family Christmas: Usually members head to the church at Sandrignham on Christmas Day
The Queen at Sandringham at Christmas last year
The problem is the estate is open to the public
Even if the family stays in separate houses on the estate, aides will have to weigh the morale boost for the public of seeing them following tradition in spite of the pandemic, versus the danger of sending out the wrong message.
The Queen and Philip have four children and eight grandchildren, along with eight great-grandchildren.
Last year, those joining the monarch in Norfolk included Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, the Duke of York, Princess Beatrice and her then-fiance Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, the Princess Royal and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
Plans still have to be finalised but the most likely scenario remains that the rest of the family will stay in their own bubbles.
Queen Elizabeth II pictured in 1957 before making her Christmas speech in Sandringham
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are likely to be spending Christmas with their children a couple of miles down the road at Anmer Hall, their 10-bedroom country retreat on the Sandringham estate.
Charles and the Camilla could join the Queen as one-third of her bubble. But that would mean Camilla, who often goes off to see her family immediately after Christmas Day lunch at Sandringham, would be unable to meet up with her beloved children and grandchildren.
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: “No decisions have been taken about Christmas yet.”
Both Sandringham and Windsor Castle, where the Queen and Philip have spent most of their time since March, are in Tier 2 under the Government’s latest pandemic restrictions.
Queen and Prince Philip, photographed at Balmoral in 1972, with one of her beloved corgis
Richard Palmer’s analysis
IN a world of turmoil the British people look to the Queen to provide unity and continuity.
Where she spends Christmas may not be the most vital of questions facing most families this winter.
But her advisers will be acutely aware that, after 31 consecutive years at Sandringham for the festive season, many think the tradition is for her to be at her private estate in Norfolk. It will be her decision but her friends think she will do her utmost to get there. In the summer it was touch and go whether she would go to Balmoral for her annual stay. But she went ahead with it and her friends think she will do the same with Sandringham this Christmas.
When her children were young she used to spend Christmases at Windsor before rewiring work at the castle prompted a change in 1988 and the extra space at Sandringham proved more comfortable for the growing Royal Family. This year she will not have to worry about space. Wherever they spend Christmas, she and Prince Philip are likely to be rattling around in empty rooms.
But the smart money is on her doing her utmost to stick with Sandringham.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without her annual broadcast but also a stay at the Norfolk retreat.