But as the Queen became a Zoom expert and amused many by saying, “Thank goodness for technology,” the royals also garnered criticism for (approved) maskless appearances, or ill-timed excursions, like Kate Middleton and Prince William’s train tour through England, Scotland and Wales in early December amidst rising case numbers. Still, the monarchy’s highlights outweighed the lowlights in 2020, particularly due to the family’s overall sensitivity to this shifting global change.
Here is our roundup of the major Royal Family highlights of 2020, starting with the big “step back” that got everybody talking:
JANUARY: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, make an unprecedented decision
Many royal watchers remember exactly where they were when news broke about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s choice to leave their roles as senior members of the Royal Family on Jan. 8. Releasing a statement on Instagram, the two expressed their desire to “work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”
Pledging to maintain their patronages and split their time between the U.K. and North America, Harry and Meghan returned to their vacation spot on Vancouver Island with baby Archie; a stay reportedly brokered by Canadian musician, producer and family friend, David Foster.
Meghan’s charitable side remained active in Canada, as she made surprise visits to the Vancouver-based women’s rights group Justice for Girls, and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Jan. 14, while wearing a made-in-Toronto Suetables Vanessa Coin Zodiac Charm necklace. The Sussexes also supported Bell Let’s Talk Day, the Canadian telecom giant’s mental health initiative.
Soon after, Harry and Meghan returned to the U.K. for a final string of official appearances in late February and early March, culminating with a stop at the Commonwealth Day Service on March 9, their last official event before wrapping up their duties on Instagram and beyond on March 31.
Since then, the couple has moved to Montecito, Calif., and inked major production deals with Netflix and Spotify. Meghan also reprised her own professional work as a narrator for “Elephants,” a Disney+ documentary. And in September, the two repaid their public debts to the tune of roughly $4 million for the renovations made to their Windsor estate at Frogmore Cottage.
The big question remains: What’s next? Well, one thing’s for sure … We now know Harry has a “podcast voice.”
MARCH: The Commonwealth Day Service, and the final appearance of the “Fab Four” as senior royals
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had nearly two years together in the public eye as official senior members of the Royal Family, and were affectionately dubbed the “Fab Four” by the press.
While we can never truly know what was going on behind the scenes, there’s a marked difference in looking at photos from the Commonwealth Day Service in two years ago and the same event this year. The two couples were clearly in a very different places in 2018 than they were in 2020, when we knew Meghan and Harry were almost done with these kinds of engagements. The 2020 photos show the four photographed together from a distance, and the couples rarely interacted with each other, likely due to reported tensions between the brothers.
MARCH: Prince Charles tests positive for COVID-19 (Prince William later shares he also tested positive)
Clarence House confirmed Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19 on March 25, but stressed that he had only been “displaying mild symptoms” and “otherwise remain[ed] in good health.” Wife Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, tested negative for the virus, and as a result of his status, the heir to the British throne spent a week in self-isolation in Scotland before resuming his official duties.
At the time, Prince Charles’ royal communications team did not disclose the health status of his other family members, but in November, Kensington Palace sources told the BBC that Prince William contracted COVID-19 in April, soon after his father’s exposure. Both seemingly made swift recoveries before returning to public life.
MARCH: Prince William, Kate Middleton and their young family lend a “hand” to frontline healthcare workers
Then ages six, four, and almost two years old, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and little Prince Louis showed us all how it’s done with their enthusiastic applause for U.K. frontline healthcare workers. Standing outside in front of a brick wall, the Instagram video of their claps for “our carers” was posted to the official Kensington Royal account on March 26, one day after their grandfather, Prince Charles, confirmed he contracted a mild case of the coronavirus.
The royal kids’ display of goodwill for both their family and the commonwealth followed in their parents’ footsteps. William and Kate had visited a London Ambulance Service control room a week earlier to provide the staff with an encouraging morale boost. But the clapping did not stop on March 26. This act of solidarity and support continued on Apr. 23, when all five Cambridges came together to clap for British healthcare workers as part of a televised BBC special.
APRIL: The Queen shares a rare message of hope about COVID-19
In an ultra-rare non-holiday public address, the Queen addressed the pandemic, and broadcasted a message of resilience and reassurance to the commonwealth from Windsor Castle on April 5. During the four-minute speech, the Queen spoke about the “painful sense of separation from [our] loved ones,” and noted that although this is an “increasingly challenging time,” quarantine is the “right thing to do.”
The royal leader thanked frontline workers for their “selfless” efforts, and acknowledged COVID-19 as, “A disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.” Ultimately, these hopeful, optimistic remarks were about unity, noting the strength in this global effort which will bring us “closer to a return to more normal times.”
MAY: Camilla Parker Bowles’ all-star COVID-19 fundraiser (in a segment with two Oscar winners!)
Ever wanted to listen to Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, call out for the Queen with Oscar winner Taika Waititi? Now you can! Camilla appeared about 17 minutes and 50 seconds into episode six of Waititi’s charity reading of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.”
The fundraiser was all to benefit Partners in Health, an American-based global non-profit providing medical care and supplies to communities fighting social injustice. And yes, keen observers would appreciate that the passage selected for Camilla during the May 27 reading involved “send[ing] a message to the Queen at once!”
“Frozen” star Josh Gad and “Us” actress Lupita Nyong’o also participated in the same segment, at separate times.
JULY: A Canada Day “thank you” from Will and Kate
Who needs fireworks when you have a thumbs up from a popular royal couple? The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took outreach to a virtual level by speaking with six frontline healthcare staffers at Surrey Memorial Hospital in B.C. on Canada Day. Will and Kate took the time to ask the hospital team questions about their COVID-19 preparedness, and how they’re handling the mental health strain of working during a pandemic (some even while pregnant).
Kate wore a short-sleeved red-and-white tweed dress for the occasion, honouring the commonwealth country with our national colours. Before signing off, Prince William added, “[We] just wanted to touch base and say how proud we are of all of you, of everyone on the front line, who have led the way very stoically, very bravely and put patient care right at the top of the list and have done a fantastic job.”
“Well done to all of you,” he continued, saying, “I hope Catherine and I can come visit you all one day and say that to you in person.”
JULY: Surprise! Princess Beatrice ties the knot
Three postponements? No problem. After changing her wedding date twice due to her father Prince Andrew’s enveloping scandal regarding his ties to the late convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Princess Beatrice cancelled her royal wedding again in April over COVID-19 safety concerns. With the May 29 nuptials up in the air after the latest delay, the then-31-year-old royal bride shocked us all by getting hitched to real estate mogul Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in a small, physically-distanced ceremony at the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor on July 17. Well, humble by royal standards.
Prince Philip and the Queen were photographed on-site with their granddaughter and her new husband from a safe distance, in what the BBC reports may be their first public outing since the UK lockdown began on March 23. But family was all over the ceremony, especially in Beatrice’s wedding attire.
Not only did she sport the same diamond fringe tiara the Queen donned for her 1947 wedding, but Beatrice also borrowed her grandmother’s vintage Norman Hartnell bejeweled ivory gown for the occasion. According to Hello! Canada, the Queen famously wore the dress on a few occasions in the 1960s, including to a premiere of “Lawrence of Arabia,” and for the 1966 State Opening of Parliament. Plus, when you consider that the loaned dress was reportedly a last-minute ask it makes the day all the more special by strengthening the “something borrowed” tradition of it all.
As for Prince Andrew? He wasn’t in the photographs released from the wedding.
SEPTEMBER: Princess Eugenie’s baby news
Princess Beatrice’s younger sister, Princess Eugenie, had happy news of her own to share this year, too. The 30-year-old royal shared she was expecting her first child like any millennial would, with an Instagram announcement of a baby emoji and a photo of an adorable pair of teeny bear slippers on Sept. 25.
Princess Eugenie married husband Jack Brooksbank, who now works as a Casamigos tequila ambassador, on Oct. 12, 2018.
DECEMBER: Finally, a royal portrait! (in salute to frontline workers)
It took nearly 12 months, but the senior members of the Royal Family took their first formal group portrait of 2020 spread apart outside of Windsor Castle on Dec. 9. Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess Anne all flanked the Queen outside the castle steps, who was dressed in a cardinal red jacket with a matching hat, and weather-appropriate black gloves and shoes. Gotta love a “make it work” moment.
The event was held to thank volunteers and frontline workers from in and around Windsor, England; praise which was also consistent with the Queen’s Christmas message about good samaritans, sacrifice, and kindness in the face of pandemic-related adversity.