Christmas at Kensington in full swing
This year will be my perfect Christmas because we have a special extra guest for the first time – my four-month-old granddaughter, Maud.
My son [Lord Frederick Windsor] and daughter-in-law [the actress Sophie Winkleman] live in Los Angeles, so it will be such a treat to have them here for Christmas, together with my daughter, Ella.
There will also be a christening for Maud in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, where Prince George was christened. It’s a family tradition to have christenings there.
I can’t wait to wheel Maud around Kensington Palace in her pram. The palace is surprisingly full of life during the holidays – the Kents [the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent’s brother and sister-in-law] are usually in London for the holidays and there are lots of people who live and work here.
We all go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – although that might be a little difficult for Maud because of it being so late. We also go to church on Christmas Day. We go to one Catholic service – because I’m Catholic – and one Anglican.
The palace is filled with decorations. We have a Christmas tree with all the decorations we’ve had for years – the children are still very attached to particular baubles and love seeing them come out again every year.
We will have a traditional Christmas lunch in the dining room at the palace, with the family and Sophie’s parents, too – whom I adore. We all watch the Queen’s Christmas message – and stand up during the national anthem. The Queen’s speech is such a marvellous thing, such a good way of uniting us all.
After Christmas, I will go away to the Bahamas. Since I’ve developed rheumatism, I’ve gone to hot places – the damp and the cold isn’t good for it. I do still ski at other times of the year. I’ll have a very quiet time in the Bahamas, apart from playing tennis three times a week.
The Royal family keep the German tradition of opening their presents on Christmas Eve. We followed the convention when we had Christmas with them at Sandringham and we did the same at Nether Lypiatt Manor in Gloucestershire, where we used to live.
It is sad not to go to Nether Lypiatt any more [it was sold in 2006], but it was exhausting packing up on Friday, getting down there, doing the flowers and everything, and then doing the same thing all over again, coming back on Monday morning. So I love Christmas in London and we will keep to the family custom here at Kensington Palace, opening presents on Christmas Eve and saving some for the next day. It’s a tradition that I followed when I was growing up. I must say, I do miss the snow – which we do get sometimes here but not nearly as often as when I was a child.
For my perfect Christmas, I would return back to those snowy winters of my childhood. I was born in Tachov, western Bohemia on the Bavarian border, now in the Czech Republic, in January 1945, when it was part of Hitler’s Sudetenland.
Despite the horrors of the war and the austerities afterwards, we still had the most wonderful Christmases. We would go to my family’s house in Kitzbühel in the Tyrol in Austria, a wonderful skiing area – my mother skied at the 1936 Olympics. So my earliest
Who is your favourite historical figure? I have several: the Empress Maria Theresa (Austria); King Charles II (England); Henry IV (France) – and whomever I am writing about at the time!
What would you like to be remembered for? Being a “life enhancer” — that I improved the lives of those mine touched in some way.
Herbal tea or stiff drink? Herbal tea — I am teetotal! (Pun intended, but true.)
What would your last meal be? Tafelspitz — a special cut of boiled beef, a great Austrian dish.
What are you listening to at the moment? Invariably Mozart — right now, The Marriage of Figaro; but often Wagner — especially the Ring cycle.
If you could go to one place in the world, where would it be? The Austrian Tyrol.
Tyrol tradition: Princess Michael of Kent enjoys Christmas time at the palace, above; she spent childhood winters at Kitzbühel, top