As Christmas invitations go, it’s most definitely up there; last week it emerged that Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria, has been personally invited by the Queen to join the royal family for the three days of festivities at Sandringham.
It’s an unprecedented move by the royals – Kate Middleton’s parents, Carole and Michael, have never even stayed in the main house, let alone been invited for Christmas dinner.
Royal insiders last week told Grazia the bold move is the Queen’s way of ‘embracing Meghan’s family’. ‘The Queen wants Meghan to have her mother there, especially as she is pregnant.’
So the big question is, what can Doria expect on her first visit to Sandringham House, the Queen’s estate in Norfolk? ‘A strict timetable, a large number of outfit changes and a minefield of protocol and tradition,’ says Ingrid Seward, royal expert and editor in chief of Majesty magazine.
‘Doria will arrive on Christmas Eve. After her luggage is unloaded, there will be a present-giving ceremony after tea. The presents are laid out in the drawing room on trestle tables covered with white linen table cloths. There will be an order of precedence, but the gifts won’t be extravagant,’ she continues. ‘There are mainly useful things, such as homemade jams, china or curios bought from country fairs.’ Allegedly, Prince Harry once gave the Queen a shower cap that read ‘ain’t life a bitch’.
‘Then it will be time for some lethal martinis and a black-tie dinner.’ But Doria won’t have to worry about sitting next to the Her Majesty: ‘There’s a really careful old-fashioned placement, which the Queen does herself,’ says Ingrid. ‘It’s always boy-girl-boy-girl.’
Christmas Day will start with an 11 o’clock church service, followed by a lunch with turkey and all the trimmings. ‘Guests are expected to enter the dining room in order of seniority,’ adds Ingrid. ‘Then the head chef carves the turkey and, after lunch, the crackers are pulled. Paper hats are donned, but not by the Queen.’
Lunch is followed by the Queen’s televised speech and a brisk walk (‘To make room for more food,’ says Ingrid). Guests will then have tea – featuring a gargantuan iced cake – and a short rest before a candlelit dinner in the dining room. Boxing Day is devoted to shooting; ‘However, Doria and Meghan will not be expected to join in, unless they wish to.’
As the festive period revolves around eating, the Queen ensures that the guests ‘weigh themselves’ on a pair of antique scales, says Ingrid. This happens before and after their visit and is a tradition harking back to Edward VII, who wanted to ensure his guests ate well.
But despite the rigid schedule and traditions, Doria will be excused if she gets protocol wrong because ‘she’s American’, insists Ingrid. ‘She won’t be expected to know when to curtsey.’
‘It is unusual for an outsider to be invited, but the royal family does change,’ adds Ingrid. ‘I’m sure the royals will do everything in their power to make Doria feel at home.’