King Charles to put his own stamp on traditional Christmas Day speech

Monarch is expected to pay tribute to his late mother in his first festive address

King Charles III will deliver his first Christmas speech after a tumultuous year for the royal family. Pool/AP
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It is 90 years since the first royal Christmas speech was broadcast to the nation by George V.

Written by poet Rudyard Kipling, the 251-word address was delivered live from the monarch's home in Sandringham, as he told his Empire: “I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all.”

Now, decades later King Charles III will be the first king to make a televised Christmas message.

Queen Elizabeth II opted to give her inaugural Christmas broadcast in the same chair and desk at Sandringham as her father and grandfather used for their speeches.

Now, as he takes over from of his late mother, fondly known by those behind the scenes as “one-take Windsor”, the world will be looking to see if he sticks with tradition or brings something new to the speech.

“The Christmas speech will be his personal take on the year and obviously at the centre will be the queen and her passing, there is no doubt that will be the case,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told The National.

“Very often she was deeply religious, she often had a link to a religious theme, and it will be interesting to see how he, remembering Christmas and what it means, handles that, and also the parts of the royal year that he chooses to highlight.

“I think it will be a very professional job, especially since he is well aware he will be the subject of such fascination. It is the first one. In a year that will obviously see the queen’s death and the magnificent funeral at the centre of the speech, there is no doubt he will pay a very moving tribute to her.”

Editor of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward is expecting a “masterly” performance.

Seven decades of the Queen's Speech — in pictures

“This December will be the first time that Charles III has recorded a Christmas message to the nation and the Commonwealth,” she wrote in Majesty.

“Over many years of public speaking the king has acquired the delivery of a professional actor and I have no doubt it will be a masterly performance.”

Now a Christmas Day institution, aired at 3pm UK time, there had been speculation he could scrap the custom, but not being one to shy away from voicing his personal opinions in his former role as the Prince of Wales, it will be a yearly opportunity to present his own perspective on global events.

The king recorded his speech last week, in between releases of his son Harry's Netflix documentary, which he is not expected to mention.

“We know, as he had to create his own role as Prince of Wales, we have had an insight into his interests and thoughts and character for better or worse because he has been very controversial in the past years,” Mr Fitzwilliams said.

“We will have to see how it compares to the queen’s, she was very adept but he has had plenty of time to practice.”

Queen Elizabeth II recording her final annual Christmas broadcast in 2021.

The queen used to meet her advisers months in advance of Christmas to discuss the issues she should touch upon, but having only been in the role for four months the king will not have that chance, but many expect the overriding theme will be to pay tribute to his mother.

“I’m sure he’ll record [the speech] a few days before and it’s bound to have some reflection on their loss,” the BBC’s former royal correspondent Jenny Bond recently told OK! magazine.

It is expected he will touch on the war in Ukraine and the unprecedented changes in the UK government’s party leadership which marked the start of his tenure, and the queen's platinum jubilee.

In the past, a small team of six has usually being involved in filming it — three producers, a film editor and two camera operators.

It is usually written by the monarch and filmed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

King Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children arriving for the Christmas Day church service in Sandringham, in 2019.

The royal broadcast

The first royal Christmas Day speech was a radio broadcast in 1932 by George V.

All the monarchs continued to deliver their messages live until 1960, when pre-recording enabled them to be sent in advance to the Commonwealth.

A problem of the live speeches became apparent during the queen’s first televised speech in 1957, when her address was interrupted by a police radio and a US officer could be heard saying, “Joe, I'm gonna grab a quick coffee”.

The queen was renowned for writing her own speeches with the help of Prince Phillip.

Her first speech, in 1952 over radio, was 829 words long, but since then it has averaged 656 words.

Between 1986 and 1991, presenter David Attenborough produced her speeches and in one rare instance he was forced to ask her to repeat it after a horse in the background began flapping its lips and appeared to mimic the monarch like a ventriloquist.

Her speeches have touched on major tragedies and famine over the years.

King George V giving his Christmas radio broadcast at Sandringham in 1934.  Getty Images

In 2017, she focused on the theme of “home” following the Manchester Arena terrorist attack and the Grenfell Tower fire, and paid tribute to the two cities' “powerful identities” shining through in the face of “appalling attacks”.

Annus horribilis

A poignant moment came in 1992, a month after fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle, when she touched on her own family struggles.

Earlier in the year she had described 1992 as an “annus horribilis” following the divorces of three of her children.

In her Christmas message she described it as a “sombre year” which she hoped to “put behind” them.

Five years later, tragedy again touched her family, and her 1997 speech was dominated by the death of Princess Diana, which she described as “unbearably sad”. She said her thoughts were with those who were “alone, bereaved or suffering”.

Her last speech was tinged with sadness as she paid tribute to her late husband, Prince Phillip.

Happier themes have featured, such as in 2012, when she described her “memorable” diamond jubilee.

Poignant time for king

King Charles has already faced challenges in his short time as monarch, from losing his mother and a race-row caused by a palace aide, to the recent Netflix documentary released by his son Harry.

“I do not think he will address the controversy,” Mr Fitzwilliams said.

“The problem is there is very little the royal family can do with reference to the Sussexes. With reference to diversity, yes there is quite a lot they can do and should do.”

Despite choosing to spend the festive period at Sandringham, King Charles filmed his speech stood up at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Over the years the queen has appeared addressing the nation at the gates of Buckingham Palace, at a military barracks during the Iraq War and in the palace gardens.

The message was recorded in the quire of St George’s Chapel, where the royal family sat during the Queen’s committal service, and during the broadcast the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor performs the National Anthem and sings a carol.

In the background is a large Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made from sustainable materials including paper and glass as well as natural products like pine cones.

As he makes history on Sunday, as the first British king to give a televised Christmas address, it will be marked by sadness from the loss of his mother.

In her final speech, she sat behind a desk in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, accompanied by a single, framed picture of herself and her late husband, as she paid a loving tribute to his service to the nation.

This year maybe the king will sit next to a similar photo, as he looks ahead to the hard act he has to follow.

Updated: December 24, 2022, 10:02 PM
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