Queen stresses importance of ‘friendship and unity’ for Commonwealth Day message

The Queen has stressed the importance of staying in touch with family and friends during ‘testing times’ in a joint message for Commonwealth Day with other senior royals – broadcast on television just hours ahead of the Sussexes’ Oprah interview.

The Prince of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined forces to appear in the special BBC One programme on Sunday to mark Commonwealth Day, as the bitter fallout from Megxit continued.

The Queen’s audio message celebrated collaboration, but stood in contrast to the troubles facing the royal family.

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis.

She also praised the ‘selfless dedication to duty’ seen across the Commonwealth, particularly on the front line.

As Harry and Meghan were due to be seen focusing on their own experiences of life inside the monarchy, the Queen, who is Head of the Commonwealth, used her Commonwealth Day message to highlight the ‘friendship, spirit of unity and achievements’ around the world and the benefits of working together in the fight against the virus.

‘The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others,’ she said.

Buckingham Palace is bracing itself for what Harry and Meghan will say in their controversial two-hour conversation with Oprah Winfrey – which airs on Sunday in the US, while the Duke of Edinburgh remains unwell in hospital.

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during there virtual engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during there virtual engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during there virtual engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

The Prince of Wales is pictured during his engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

The Prince of Wales is pictured during his engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

The Prince of Wales is pictured during his engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that 'transcends boundaries or division' and how there has been a 'deeper appreciation' of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that 'transcends boundaries or division' and how there has been a 'deeper appreciation' of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

In extracts, Meghan has already accused The Firm – as the royal family is sometimes known – of ‘perpetuating falsehoods’ and told how she now felt liberated to make her own choices.

As footage was played of the Queen’s numerous official video calls, the 94-year-old acknowledged that the innovative technology ‘has been new to some of us, with conversations and communal gatherings, including Commonwealth meetings, conducted online, enabling people to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and counterparts who they have not been able to meet in person.

She said: ‘Increasingly, we have found ourselves able to enjoy such communication as it offers an immediacy that transcends boundaries or division, helping any sense of distance to disappear.

‘We have all continued to appreciate the support, breadth of experiences and knowledge that working together brings.’

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day (pictured: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, November 1947)

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day (pictured: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, November 1947)

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day (pictured: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, November 1947) 

She praised the ‘selfless dedication to duty’ of medical staff and other key workers.

‘Whilst experiences of the last year have been different across the Commonwealth, stirring examples of courage, commitment, and selfless dedication to duty have been demonstrated in every Commonwealth nation and territory, notably by those working on the frontline, who have been delivering health care and other public services in their communities,’ she said.

Harry and Meghan were accused of being disrespectful to the monarch’s own life of duty when their permanent Megxit departure was finalised two weeks ago, with their camp saying, in what was seen as a parting shot: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’

The message, pre-recorded at Windsor, was accompanied by new footage of the Queen filmed last week at the castle, where she has been staying in lockdown.

The monarch, dressed in an Angela Kelly delphinium blue dress and jacket, is seen walking through the grand St George’s Hall, which was lined with Commonwealth flags.

She is flanked, socially distanced, by her Master of the Household Vice Admiral Sir Tony Johnstone-Burt and her assistant private secretary Matthew Magee, who form part of the Queen’s HMS Bubble of reduced staff, and who were both smiling broadly.

The Queen then sits at an ornate desk in the middle of the hall and signs her Commonwealth Day message.

On her jacket is the sapphire chrysanthemum brooch which she wore in a photograph to mark her 73rd wedding anniversary with Philip in November.

Played over a montage of footage from around the Commonwealth, the message was in part reminiscent of the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcasts.

The one-off BBC show was arranged after the annual Commonwealth Day event at Westminster Abbey was cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Last year’s service in the central London church was the scene of Harry and Meghan’s final official engagement as senior royals before they quit the working monarchy.

They had been hailed as the new stars of the Commonwealth after pledging to work with the association throughout their lives.

In the programme, the Prince of Wales was featured standing alone in the Abbey, where his youngest son performed his last public duty and where they were last seen publicly together, as he delivered a speech.

Charles said the pandemic had affected every country ‘cruelly robbing countless people of their lives and livelihoods’, but praised how people responded with ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’.

William and Kate were filmed making video calls to medical, charity and voluntary staff in South Africa, Bangladesh and Malaysia, while the Countess of Wessex spoke to three women from around the Commonwealth ahead of International Women’s Day.

The Duchess of Cornwall was interviewed by Clare Balding in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner about the importance of reading for children during a disrupted year of education.

The bulk of the programme was filmed inside the Abbey, and presented by broadcaster Anita Rani, with musical performances throughout, and prayers by the Dean of Westminster.

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day.    

Her address tonight featured footage of her walking last week down an avenue of Commonwealth flags in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle, where Harry and Meghan’s wedding reception was held.

Countess of Wessex during her virtual engagement which will appear in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday. March 6, 2021

Countess of Wessex during her virtual engagement which will appear in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday. March 6, 2021

Countess of Wessex during her virtual engagement which will appear in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday. March 6, 2021

Dressed in a delphinium blue dress and jacket, she wore her sapphire chrysanthemum brooch in a touching gesture to Prince Philip, who is still in hospital recovering from heart surgery. She wore it in their honeymoon photographs and again for their commemorative wedding anniversary portrait last November.

Prince Charles, filmed giving an address in Westminster Abbey, applauded the ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’ of people in the face of ‘heart-breaking suffering’, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge praise healthcare workers from around the world.

While the Royals’ appearance in the BBC programme was planned some time ago, its timing just hours before Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey goes out in North America is undeniably awkward.

The Family’s broadcast was suggested by the Royal Commonwealth Society and Westminster Abbey in early January because they recognised this year’s Commonwealth Day Service would be cancelled due to lockdown.

The Queen then agreed to narrate her annual Commonwealth message, usually printed in the service programme.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, talking to Clare Balding about children’s literacy, were filmed in Westminster Abbey, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, were filmed on video calls talking to medical and charity staff from South Africa, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Australia and Malawi. Harry and Meghan, who handed back their roles as Commonwealth ambassadors, do not feature.

In an extract from the programme, A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, Kate and William chat in a video call with Dr Zolelwa Sifumba, an advocate for the rights of health workers in South Africa.

The Duchess tells the medic: ‘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.’ The Duke of Cambridge has also been making weekly phone calls to NHS staff up and down the country to thank them for their work.

It was at the Commonwealth Day service last year when the Sussexes were last seen with their family. 

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