Meghan Markle has attended her first official engagement with The Queen, as she joined Prince Charles, Camilla, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Andrew, The Princess Royal, The Countess of Wessex, The Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra, and of course her fiance Prince Harry, to celebrate Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey.
The service was attended by people from across the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations, and focused on the theme, ‘A Common Future.’
Royals arrived in order of precedence, from least to most senior; that meant that The Countess of Wessex followed in after The Duchess of Gloucester, as she was present without her husband, The Earl of Wessex. Princess Alexandra was next in, as a ‘Princess of the blood’, behind Princess Anne and The Duke of York.
Outside the abbey as they all arrived, were Ghanaian drummers and dancers; all the Royals admired the performance on their way in.
The service started shortly after The Queen’s arrival, with the singing of the National Anthem, after all members of the Royal Family had taken their seats. Ms Markle could be seen joining in; as she takes her citizenship test, this will one day be her national anthem too. Meghan then gave her second public curtsy before the Monarch, as The Queen took her seat.
Among the 2,000-strong congregation was the Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat, Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, high commissioners, ambassadors, senior politicians, faith leaders and over 800 schoolchildren. After the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April, Theresa May will take over from the Prime Minister of Malta as Chair-in-Office for a period of two years.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, was also in attendance, and gave a reading.
The annual multi-faith service included a procession of flags, multiple prayers, and a reflection by Dr Andrew Bastawrous, founder of Peek Vision, a group committed to ending avoidable blindness. Dr Bastawrous mentioned how cataracts can destroy lives, but can be treated with ease. The Countess of Wessex paid special attention to the reflection, as she has been a passionate advocate for ending avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth, as seen on a recent visit to Bangladesh.
After multiple performances, including from former One Direction singer Liam Payne, The Right Honourable The Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, led the congregation in the Act of Affirmation: “We affirm our belief in the Commonwealth as a force for good in the world and pledge ourselves to its service, now and for the future.”
The service concluded with a prayer to protect the “Church, The Queen, and the Commonwealth”.
Members of the Royal Family then met those who participated in the service, and talked to young school children, one girl curtsying multiple times as she presented a posy of flowers to the Sovereign.
Outside the Abbey, Meghan told a visiting teacher: “The service was beautiful, especially the choir and the music,” adding that it was “great to see people from all over the world so well represented.” She also admitted she is “very, very excited” about her upcoming wedding to Prince Harry in May.
The Duchess of Cambridge also seemed to enjoy the event; we believe it was her penultimate engagement before beginning maternity leave for her third child, expected next month.
The four younger Royals – William, Catherine, Harry and Meghan – also met school children outside of the abbey.
In her annual message to the Commonwealth released over the weekend, Her Majesty noted the importance of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, the next of which is to be held in London in April. “These gatherings are themselves fine examples of how consensus and commitment can help to create a future that is fairer, more secure, more prosperous, and sustainable. Having enjoyed the warm hospitality of so many Commonwealth countries over the years, I look forward to the pleasure of welcoming the leaders of our family of 53 nations to my homes in London and Windsor.”
The Queen also vowed to grow the organisation, which currently covers one-third of humanity, “Voluntary effort, by people working as individuals, in groups or through larger associations, is so often what shapes the Commonwealth and all our communities.
“By pledging to serve the common good in new ways, we can ensure that the Commonwealth continues to grow in scope and stature, to have an even greater impact on people’s lives, today, and for future generations.”
The Rt Hon The Lord Howell of Guildford PC Chairman, Council of Commonwealth Societies, and President of The Royal Commonwealth Society noted the importance of the Commonwealth in an uncertain world. “Perhaps the most important of all the Commonwealth’s aspects is that it gives us purpose and positive direction, in an age when many people, and even nations, feel confused and uncertain about their future and the uncharted seas ahead.”
Following the service, The Queen beamed; it is reportedly one of her favourite events of the year – she is yet to miss one.
Earlier this evening, The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attended a reception at Marlborough House to mark Commonwealth Day. They were joined by The Duke of Cambridge, and were treated to a Maori choir performance.