While all the focus is on the words during the royal Christmas speeches, once the addresses have been given, attention turns to the furniture. There is always an interest in how the royals dress the rooms in which they give their most anticipated speeches of the year. And that was no different in 2020, a year when one theme in particular dominated the royal Christmas addresses.
Light was all around Europe’s rulers as they made their speeches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. King Philippe of the Belgians made a point of illuminating his address with physical lights as well as words about the hope that even the smallest glimmer of brightness can bring. The monarch usually sits or stands in front of a discreet royal portrait, usually one of the first King of the Belgians, Leopold I, but this time there were no regal ancestors in view. Instead, Philippe was surrounded by a huge Christmas tree, decked with sparkling lights and golden and glass baubles, as well as seemingly endless displays of candles, all flickering with bright, belligerent flames.
As the King began his speech, the camera panned to an open door and a view of an endless corridor filled with open windows. That same metaphor was employed by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and by Elizabeth II during her address from Windsor Castle. Unusually, the Queen was seen by a window, its curtains noticeably pulled back to let in the little light of a midwinter’s day.
On her other side was a huge, well lit Christmas tree, to add yet more brightness to the image. Next to her, was a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh. It was a small, discreet portrait, in an oval frame, showing a relaxed Duke, in casual clothes and a happy smile. The Queen’s Christmas Day speech contained many moments of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal going about their royal duties but the main image was of Elizabeth II and her constant consort, Prince Philip.
Continuity was also dominant in the speech given by King Felipe VI of Spain where the only photo on show was one taken of him with his daughter and heir, Princess Leonor, in the summer as the two placed the first flowers of commemoration during the memorial service for those who had lost their lives to coronavirus.
Partnership of a different kind was on the Spanish king’s mind. He was one of two rulers who put the focus on the European Union during their addresses. Felipe gave much of his speech with the backdrop of an EU flag intertwined with his nation’s flag. Unsurprisingly, this was particularly prominent during the part of his address focusing on Spain’s role within the EU. Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg also spoke in front of an EU flag during his address on Christmas Eve. His evocation of being ”at the heart of the European Union” was given with the image of the Luxembourg flag entwined with the symbol of the EU.
Flags were also important to the King of Sweden who won the prize for most patriotic tree decorations. Speaking from Drottningholm Palace, King Carl XVI Gustaf gave his address in front of a Christmas tree decked in garlands of mini Swedish flags and sparkling tinsel. On the desk beside him was a photograph of his wife, Queen Silvia, and a rather garish bust of Karl XIV Johan, the first Bernadotte King of Sweden.
Three more European rulers will give their traditional seasonal addresses at New Year when, no doubt, the messages being sent by their surroundings will provide just as much to talk about.