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Queen leads Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey

by Victoria Howard

The Queen today led a service at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day, and was joined by Prince Philip, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

The multi-faith service celebrates the the 53 nations in the union with a theme each year, and all faiths, from Sikhism to Buddhism are represented at the Abbey.

The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty The Queen arrive at Westminster Abbey, to attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day. Picture by David Mirzoeff / i-Images

The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty The Queen arrive at Westminster Abbey, to attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day. Picture by David Mirzoeff / i-Images

This year’s focus was inclusiveness, and Her Majesty wrote a message in the service programme (a change this year, as a video message is normally broadcast), calling for help for those who ‘feel excluded in all walks of life’.

The message read: “Today, and in the year ahead, the theme An Inclusive Commonwealth is an inspiration for us all.

“Let us give it practical effect by supporting those in need and those who feel excluded in all walks of life. By doing so, we will continue to build a truly representative Commonwealth community.”

The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, was in attendance, along with High Commissioners from the 53 member nations.. Upon arrival before The Queen, William, Kate and Harry were greeted by cheering crowds at the venue of the Duke and Duchess’ nuptials in 2011.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry arrive at Westminster Abbey, to attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day. Picture by David Mirzoeff / i-Images

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry arrive at Westminster Abbey, to attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day. Picture by David Mirzoeff / i-Images

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan gave a speech at the service, praising Elizabeth II’s “steadfast devotion” to the Commonwealth, which somewhat continues the British Empire, although not all members were. Ellie Goulding, who performed at William and Catherine’s wedding reception at Buckingham Palace, sang Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ during the service.

Nobody ‘has made a greater contribution to its achievements than Your Majesty,’ Annan continued. “You have shown an unwavering and steadfast devotion to this grand project. We are greatly honoured and deeply grateful for your extraordinary commitment.”

Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke, taking the chance to reinforce his pro-EU message. “At a time of unprecedented global challenges, the Commonwealth is more important than ever – bringing together a unique family of 53 nations, spanning every continent, to promote respect and understanding and to uphold our shared democratic values,” Mr Cameron said.

“It is by being a member of strong networks and international organisations such as the Commonwealth, the UN Security Council, the EU, Nato and G8 that we amplify Britain’s influence in the world.

“As the only country to belong to all of these organisations, we have a unique opportunity to make our voice heard and our partners value the role we can play in bringing together these different networks, so we all work together to deliver greater security and prosperity for our citizens.”

As the service came to a close, flag bearers carried the 53 flags of the Commonwealth out of Westminster Abbey.

Her Majesty also received an early birthday present from the choristers of the Abbey as she was leaving: they gifted a framed picture of Choir Boy – The Queen’s first winning racehorse, which won the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot in 1953.

As Catherine left, she spoke to schoolchildren waiting outside. She told them about Prince George and his love of his scooter.

“He’s got a scooter. He’s going super fast on it,” the Duchess said.

“It’s hard to keep up with him. Charlotte is keeping him in check‎. She’s getting bigger by the day.”

In the evening, The Queen and Prince Philip attended a reception hosted by Mr Sharma at Marlborough House, the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, just down the Mall from Buckingham Palace.

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