Queen's message breaks tradition

For the Queen, it has been a year of grief and great happiness, she told the nation yesterday in her Christmas Day message. Kathy Marks says the intensely personal tone of the broadcast marked a significant break with tradition.

Finally, it seems, the Queen is in tune with the popular mood. If there was one thing her subjects wished to hear in the Christmas broadcast, it was a display of emotion about Diana, Princess of Wales. And there it was, right at the start of her message.

Westminster Abbey, she said, had been the setting this year for both Diana's funeral and her own 50th wedding anniversary celebration, two events, "one of them almost unbearably sad, and one, for Prince Philip and me, tremendously happy".

Quoting from William Blake about the "silken twine" of joy that often accompanies woe, she said: "This interweaving of joy and woe has been very much brought home to me and my family during the last months. We all felt the shock and sorrow of Diana's death." It was a more relaxed Queen who spoke yesterday, an indication that she has taken to heart the calls after the Princess's death for a modern monarchy, more accessible to the people.

The broadcast marked a departure in other ways too. Produced for the first time by ITN instead of the BBC, it was in documentary format, with the Queen's words intercut with footage from the funeral, royal visits and the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh.

At nine minutes and 55 seconds, it was the longest royal Christmas message since George V began the tradition in 1932, and it was also the first to be on the Internet.

The Queen remarked on the flowers and condolences left in tribute to Diana and said they had been "a great comfort to all those close to her". As she spoke, scenes from the funeral were shown, including a shot of Prince Harry, his face crumpled in grief.

The Queen came close to endorsing devolution for Scotland and Wales, while expressing confidence that the Kingdom remained united. It was her first opportunity to address the nation since she appeared on television a week after the Princess's death in response to disquiet at the royal silence amid outpourings of grief.

Part of the broadcast was filmed at Windsor Castle, where the Queen showed restoration work on St George's Hall, ravaged by fire five years ago.

It finished on another personal note. "Christmas reaffirms that God is with us today," the Queen said. "But, as I have discovered myself afresh this year, he is always present in the kindness shown by our neighbours and in the love of our friends and family."

In his Christmas Day sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, made a plea for a more caring society, but said it was only attainable if the worth of every individual was recognised. Dr Carey said God was "still with us". He went on: "Not absent from the poor, the broken-hearted, the refugee and the homeless. Not absent from the single mother, the person living on the breadline and the unemployed teenager."

He added that Christmas "asserts the importance of family life and living in community with each other".

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