A royal message of peace and goodwill

The Queen's speech: Warring family factions take a back seat to the courage of peace workers all over the world

The Queen yesterday concentrated on the bright side of life in her annual message to the Commonwealth; she did not mention the warring factions within her own household, but dwelt instead on the peace initiatives around the world and narrated footage of the royal family on its best behaviour and at its most effective.

In the broadcast from Sandringham, Norfolk, her sombre delivery contrasted with scenes of the royal family in happier mood at this summer's VE and VJ Day 50th anniversary celebrations, and her own successful tour of South Africa in March.

The starring roles were taken by the older members of the family, with glimpses of Prince Charles and his estranged wife. Princess Diana was far from the royal festivities in Norfolk, playing an uncharacteristically low-profile role.

The Queen, in her speech, spoke of the successful brokering of peace in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and paid tribute to various Commonwealth volunteer organisations. In particular, she mentioned an Irish nurse whom she met in South Africa, Sister Ethel Normoyle, who teaches underprivileged children in a township just outside Port Elizabeth.

"The traditional Christmas message speaks of peace and goodwill among men," the Queen said. "It is the volunteers and the Sister Ethels of this world who spread that message and it is for the rest of us to welcome it."

She gave special emphasis to the VE and VJ Day festivities in May and August. "It was difficult to know that day who felt the greater pride," she said, "those of us watching or those of us on parade. It was an unforgettable day for all of us."

There was praise also for the volunteer workers in countries "from Bosnia to Rwanda, from Chechnya to Cambodia", whom the Queen recently invited to Buckingham Palace.

"Like the people who fought and won the last war, they make no claim to be anything out of the ordinary, but their commitment is very far from ordinary," she said.

The royal family, without the Princess of Wales or the Duchess of York - gathered for the traditional church service at Sandringham, Norfolk, yesterday. It was the first time the Princess of Wales had missed the event.

Royal family members who attended the 45-minute service included the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princes Charles, Edward, William and Harry, Princess Margaret, and the Princess Royal, accompanied by her husband, Captain Tim Laurence, and her children, Peter and Zara Phillips. The family spent the rest of the day at Sandringham.

Buckingham Palace had halved the usual quota of photographers and journalists given access to cover the Sandringham service to only 20. This decision was thought to be an attempt to recover some of the mystique the royal family has lost over the past two decades.

A palace spokesman said that the Queen's decision not to mention her family was not unusual. "She has been doing the speech for 40 years," he said. "It's a Commonwealth message, and if she chooses to adopt a bigger theme, then that's a matter for her."

In his Christmas address yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, did mention the schisms within the royal family. He said that the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children "have been at the forefront of our prayers as we sense afresh some of the pain they carry".

Princess Diana had left journalists none the wiser as to her whereabouts. Some felt she might have been at her brother's home of Althorp, in Northamptonshire, while other reporters thought she was heading for a skiing trip in Colorado.

The Duchess of York, although not present at the church, later lunched with her daughters Beatrice and Eugenie at the Wood Farm house on the Sandringham estate.

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