With peak figures of 7.1 million, the two-hour long episode of Julian Fellowes’ drama just pipped the Strictly Special, won by Harry Judd, which was the BBC’s most watched show of the day with a peak of 7 million viewers and an average of 6.5 million.
However, the real ratings winner was the Queen, whose 3pm broadcast had the biggest overall figures for the day, drawing 6.1 million on the BBC and 1.1 million on ITV, excluding +1 and catch-up services.
In its swansong episode, viewers watched as Downton’s Lady Edith finally got her happy ending with Bertie Pelham, Lady Mary discovered she was pregnant and Anna and Mr Bates welcomed their first child – with no tragic deaths to break the reverie.
ITV said: “This is the first time a Downton Christmas special has topped the ratings in the UK on Christmas Day.”
However, it was a drop from the 8.8 million who tuned in for the penultimate episode of the series in November and failed to replicate the astonishing figures from the first ever Downton Christmas episode in 2011 when it pulled in a consolidated audience of 12.1 million.
The BBC claimed eight of the 10 most watched Christmas shows, with Mrs Brown’s Boys and Stick Man drawing in an average of 6.4 million respectively, and Doctor Who and Call the Midwife pulling in an audience of 5.8 million each.
Downton went head-to-head with an hour-long special of EastEnders in the 8.45pm slot, but even a shock car crash involving the Mitchell and Beale families only captured the attention of 5.7 million fans.
It still triumphed in the war between the soaps with Coronation Street pulling in an average of 5.6 million and Emmerdale 4.3 million.
BBC One controller Charlotte Moore said: “BBC One brought the nation together with a distinctive range of programmes on Christmas Day and eight of the top 10 most popular shows. There are many more television treats for viewers to enjoy on BBC One over the rest of the festive season including Billionaire Boy, The Great Barrier Reef, Still Open All Hours, David Beckham special, And Then There Were None, Dickensian and Sherlock.”