Queen Elizabeth II praises family in Christmas speech

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Queen Elizabeth II will use her Christmas Day message, recorded before her husband Prince Philip was rushed to hospital and underwent heart surgery, to praise the institution of family.

The prince, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June, underwent a procedure to correct a blocked artery late Friday after being taken to hospital with chest pains.

He was to remain for a "short period" in hospital in Cambridge, eastern England, near the Sandringham estate where the royal family traditionally gathers to celebrate Christmas, a statement from the royal family said.

The health scare for her husband of 64 years was a low point for the queen in a year in which the wedding of her grandson Prince William to Kate Middleton gave the royals an enormous boost.

In her message, to be broadcast on Christmas Day Sunday, she will also talk about the "family" of the Commonwealth.

The theme is particularly relevant as the British royals prepare for a year of extensive travel to Commonwealth member states as part of the queen's diamond jubilee marking 60 years on the throne.

Family is of central importance to the 85-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and commentators will not be surprised she chose the topic after the events of 2011.

William's wedding in April was watched by hundreds of millions across the world and was generally considered to have breathed new life into the monarchy.

Prince Philip's birthday was a more low-key event, which he celebrated with a typical lack of fuss.

It is all a far cry from the dark days of 1992, which the queen called her "annus horribilis", when three of her children's marriages broke down and Windsor Castle was wrecked by fire.

The queen, who received a warm welcome in Australia in October where she opened a Commonwealth summit in Perth, will also talk about the organisation in the context of family.

"Of course, family does not necessarily mean blood relatives but often a description of a community, organisation or nation," she will say.

"The Commonwealth is a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals."

The speech is one of the rare occasions when the monarch is able to voice her own views -- she writes it herself and often draws on her own experiences, while reflecting on current issues.

© 2011 AFP

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