It is officially 29 days to Christmas. The Queen, like great-grandmothers everywhere, loves gathering her extended family around her to celebrate the holidays which to this day largely follow German tradition. However this year, one of these Windsor get-togethers bears extra significance.
Her Majesty spends Christmas Day with her children, grandchildren, grandchildren and dorgis at Sandringham but she traditionally holds a luncheon at Buckingham Palace for her vast extended family the week before.
Her cousins Princess Alexandra, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke and Duchess of Kent, along with Prince and Princess Michael of Kent trot along, all bouffant hair and very good pearls (the women) and immaculate pocket squares (the blokes) with their gaggles of inordinately good-looking progeny in tow.
Usually it’s a jolly jape and everyone is photographed leaving looking slightly red-faced and full of the Christmas spirit as they barrel out of the Palace afterwards.
What should be nothing more than an enjoyable day for Her Majesty will instead be seen as a litmus test for the future of her embattled son, Andrew, the Duke of York in the wake of his calamitous (and shocking) BBC interview about his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Last Wednesday the duke announced he was resigning from official duties, the first senior royal to step back from ‘the job’ since King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.
The significance of Andrew’s move cannot be underestimated and whether he voluntarily stepped back or was pushed by his mum, this is a humiliating and historic end to his career as an HRH.
While this decision means he will no longer represent Her Majesty on any official visits, he is still a member of the Windsor family and the Palace confirmed last week that he would still attend events such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday.
That means that come June next year, when the clan assembles on the Buckingham Palace balcony for the Queen’s official birthday, Andrew, in all of his military regalia, will be there too.
But there are a couple of interesting things that we have learnt in recent days. Firstly, that public sentiment around the question of Andrew’s conduct and public role is loud, furious and shows no sign of abating.
Secondly, for the first time, the Queen (and reportedly Prince Charles and Prince William) are clearly willing to act on this growing tide of British anger and do what is necessary to protect the institution of the monarchy.
That is, to put it bluntly, get rid of Andrew.
A poll in The Times found just six per cent of respondents believed the Duke of York was telling the truth about his relationship with Epstein.
Gallingly for the 59-year-old, it also revealed a majority of Britons – 51 per cent – want the embattled royal banned from public events traditionally attended by the whole family such as Trooping the Colour.
Which is where Her Majesty’s Christmas lunch comes in. At the time of writing, Prince Charles is winging his way back to London from the South Pacific after a 12-day tour that was obliterated by the media fallout of his younger brother’s BBC interview.
The two brothers are set to meet within days with the Prince of Wales reportedly poised to read his wayward sibling “the Riot Act”.
With the Queen, Charles and William calling the shots during this ongoing saga, they have proven surprisingly responsive and sensitive to public feeling meaning that given this polling, Andrew’s attendance at events such as the Palace Christmas lunch could be up for debate.
Technically, the Queen’s Christmas shindig is a private affair but every year the dozens of members of the family who attend are photographed arriving and leaving. Given this polling (which also found that six out of ten people in the UK think that Andrew has damaged the reputation of the royal family) what message would it send to see images of the Duke grinning cheerfully as he sped into the Palace for a jolly knees-up?
There are a couple of other factors to consider here.
One, Charles has long advocated for a “slimmed down” version of the monarchy, which would mean only those in the line of succession appearing prominently on the Buckingham Palace balcony and undertaking official visits. (For example, to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward along with their families were barred from appearing on the Palace balcony with Her Majesty, a move said to have deeply angered Andrew.)
This current public embarrassment could mean Charles has the license to speed this plan up and quite where that would leave usual family events and other members of the titled clan is not known.
Secondly, Andrew is widely held to be the monarch’s favourite child and last week the pair were photographed riding together in Windsor Great Park, a shot that the 93-year-old would have known would send a clear signal of support.
So for now, we wait. Wait to see what Charles’ next move is to try and staunch the damage Andrew has dealt to the royal family and wait to see if there is a limit to the Queen’s personal support of her son.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s biggest media titles.