Numerous members of the Royal Family were present at Westminster Abbey yesterday to attend the annual Commonwealth Service to commemorate Commonwealth Day. But all eyes were on The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in what was their last official engagement before stepping down as working Royals.
Commonwealth Day, which replaced Empire Day, is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations. It his held on the second Monday of March each year and is a public holiday in some parts of the Commonwealth, but not in Britain. The day is marked by a service in Westminster Abbey and The Queen releases a message to all countries. There are also celebrations in other countries including flag parades, church services, poetry mornings, dance performances and much more.
This year, The Earl and Countess of Wessex, The Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince of Wales and The Queen were present for the service.
Arriving in reverse order of precedence, with The Queen arriving last and the Earl and Countess of Wessex first, the royals greeted waiting dignitaries and clergymen and women. There was no traditional shaking of hands, due to rules out in places at the Abbey because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attended with fiancé Carrie, seemed to forget momentarily and stuck his hand out before backing out of the handshake.
The theme for The Commonwealth this year is ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting Innovating, Transforming”. It places emphasis on youth, the environment, trade, governance, ICT and innovation and aims to highlight how all 54 member countries in the Commonwealth family are ‘innovating, connecting and transforming’ to help achieve some of its biggest goals like protecting natural resources and boosting trade.
The Commonwealth is a political association of 54 states, most of them are former British Empire territories. It is home to 2.4 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. Member countries work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states, and protect the environment.
There was some last-minute changes to the ceremony today, despite the Order of Service already being signed off on and printed yesterday. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were originally due to walk in the procession with The Queen, Charles and Camilla, but were instead escorted to their seats upon arrival just like Prince Edward and Sophie, and Prince Harry and Meghan were. It is not unusual to not have all Royals take part in the procession, with both the Cambridge’s and Harry having not taken part in previous years.
Everyone greeted one another with smiles and Meghan even waved to her brother and sister-in-law, while The Queen was greeted with curtsies. Both the Sussexes and Cambridges seemed deep in conversation with the Wessexes while they waited for The Queen to arrive and the ceremony to begin.
In previous years, the annual service at Westminster Abbey took place behind closed doors. Recently, however, we have been lucky enough to get a look inside, with BBC One showing the full service for those watching at home.
This year’s ceremony featured a speech from heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua about his Nigerian and British heritage, and performances from Craig David and Alexandra Burke. The Royals seemed to enjoy the service, with William nodding along to some of the speeches given – they seemed to resonate with him – and Meghan bopping her head to the music.
Following the ceremony, the royal party met with all those involved in the ceremony. Again, there was no handshaking – but Harry did elbow bump with Craig David. As the Royals departed one-by-one, it really felt like the end of an era.
We know we will see the Wessexes, Cambridges, The Queen, Charles and Camilla soon – we saw Kate again last night. But when will we see the Sussex’s in an official capacity once more?
It is fitting that Prince Harry and Meghan would choose this to be their last engagement, considering their links to and work with the Commonwealth. Meghan’s wedding dress featured all the national flowers of the commonwealth, and they are President and Vice-President of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
Highlights from the Service of Celebration for Commonwealth Day held at @wabbey in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the @RoyalFamily earlier today.#CommonwealthDay pic.twitter.com/RhwGUgKZub
— BBC Studios Events (@BBCStudiosLive) March 9, 2020
Later, The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince of Wales – who had changed into something a little less formal – travelled to Marlborough House, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters. They were greeted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, upon arrival.
Prince Charles, the next Head of the Commonwealth, and Camilla, who is Vice-Patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society, are strong supporters of the Commonwealth. During the reception they spoke with representatives from all member nations, including the Rwandan High Commissioner.
The Prince of Wales shook hands with some, but greeted others with a ‘namaste’, one of the greetings being used around the world by people instead of a handshake.
Rwanda will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June of this year and it is expected that the couple will attend, and some other members of the Royal Family also.
The reception brought to a close royal involvement in Commonwealth celebrations for the day, but many more events took place – and are still taking place – around the world. Happy Commonwealth Day!