Ahead of Commonwealth Day, The Queen and senior members of the Royal Family have taken part in a video message to celebrate the family of nations, and in particular how people have coped in the pandemic.
Her Majesty addressed the UK as part of Commonwealth Day celebrations in a special programme on BBC One, and was joined by The Prince of Wales.
She gave her speech from St George’s Hall at Windsor, in front of flags of the Commonwealth.
Elizabeth II noted ‘stirring examples of courage, commitment and selfless dedication’ across the Commonwealth in spite of the difference in experiences in the pandemic.
The Monarch, 94, spoke of the use of technology to help overcome physical distance: “We have become more accustomed to connecting and communication for innovation and technology,” as footage also showed members of the Royal Family carrying out virtual engagements, “helping any sense of distance to disappear.”
“I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community looking forward,” she added.
The Queen wears a cornflower blue suit, with her chrysanthemum brooch; you might recognise this as the one worn in photos taken on her honeymoon with Philip at Broadlands in 1947, and again for images to celebrate the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.
🌍 In this year’s #CommonwealthDay message The Queen
pays tribute to the way in which communities across the family of nations have come together in response to the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/rOoUMJLlKg
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) March 7, 2021
Of course, Prince Philip is currently in hospital, after a two-week stint to fight an infection as well as a heart procedure. The Duke of Edinburgh is now back at the King Edward VII hospital.
Prince Charles spoke of the ‘universal devastation’ caused by Covid-19 and recognised the difficulties not having social interaction has created from a lectern in the Abbey.
“The coronavirus pandemic has affected every country of the Commonwealth, cruelly robbing countless people of their lives and livelihoods, disrupting our societies and denying us the human connections which we so dearly cherish,” Charles said.
“Amidst such heart-breaking suffering, however, the extraordinary determination, courage and creativity with which people have responded has been an inspiration to us all.
“This pandemic has shown us the true nature of a global emergency. We have learned that human health, economic health and planetary health are fundamentally interconnected and that pandemics, climate change and biodiversity loss are existential threats which know no borders.”
He also celebrated the ‘critical work’ being carried out by Commonwealth nations to combat climate change. Charles has been supporting the ‘build back better’ ethos in the wake of the pandemic, to help make things greener and reverse the effects of pollution.
The programme, titled ‘A Celebration of Commonwealth Day’, also featured The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Catherine, as well as The Countess of Wessex. The theme was ‘Delivery a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’ amongst the 54 nations and over 2.4 billion people it represents.
In March 2020, the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey was the Sussexes’ last official appearance before moving to North America, as well as one of the final royal engagements before lockdown restrictions kicked in.
Camilla talks to Clare Balding in Poets’ Corner at the Abbey and says that at the age of ‘two or three’, “I think I was bitten at that age [by the reading bug] and from then I’ve just kept going, and I’ve got involved in a lot of literacy programmes and patronages. I just feel very strongly that all children should be taught to read.”
She explained how her father was ‘a fervent bibliophile’ who would ‘sit and read to us children, take us on wonderful adventures… all over the world’.
Indian author, Ranjasinh Disale, joined the conversation via video link, and spoke of his work encouraging girls in particular to read.
There were also performances from Nitin Sawhney, Lianne La Havas, Alexis Ffrench.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke to a health care medic as part of their message. Speaking to Dr Zolelwa Sifumba from South Africa – who is an advocate for the rights of healthcare workers on the front line – Catherine commented: “Here in the UK there’s been masses of public recognition of the amazing work the front line are doing and it’s sad, almost, that it’s taken the pandemic for the public to really back and support all those working on the front line.”
Dr Sifumba replied: “We actually know the problems, we see the problems every day; you walk into work there are the problems.
“The problem is our voices are not heard. We are on the front lines and we are expected to lift humanity.
“So my advice to everybody is, if you know a healthcare worker – any healthcare worker – you just love on them, love on them, love on them some more.
“If their child needs looking after offer, you know, if they need a meal, offer.”
Since the pandemic hit the UK, the couple have shown their support for the emergency services – in particular the Duke.
🇿🇦 Dr. Zolelwa Sifumba is working to advocate for healthcare workers and the importance of looking after those in the medical profession on the front line.
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) March 7, 2021
William says: “We, Catherine and I, have spoken to a lot of healthcare workers in UK and around the world over the last year – we hear your worries and your concerns and thank you for your time chatting to us about it.”
They also spoke to Faysal about his SafeWheel project, which supports rural communities in Bangladesh with affordable basic rickshaw ambulances.
The Countess’ contribution also marked International Women’s Day, also 8th March this year, Sophie spoke to two women from the Commonwealth – Caitlin from Australia and Virginia of Malawi, both Queen’s Young Leaders – to hear about their experiences of supporting other women and their wider communities.
Caitlin runs a programme to get young women involved in politics, be that becoming political leaders or helping shift policy, which the Countess was impressed by.
Virginia’s work focuses getting girls into school, and reshaping their ‘value’ to society. The Royal actually visited on of the Girls Arise for Change projects on her visit last year.
Sophie was asked about her work. She commented ‘there can be a bit of a fatigue’ talking about women’s rights, and so she wants to ‘move the discussion into a place where it becomes a much more level playing field, because it’s a win-win, not one against the other.”
A reflection was given by Commonwealth Games champion heptathlete, Denise Lewis, and prayers by the Dean of Westminster.
You can watch the service here: