In what will be widely interpreted as a message to her own family as well as to her extended family around the Commonwealth Realms, the Queen spoke about the “spirit of unity” in a speech for a special Commonwealth Day service on Sunday.
The Queen normally provides a written speech included in the program for the in-person Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, but this year’s event was turned into a broadcast on BBC One. Speaking about the past year of the pandemic, the Queen noted that
“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 healthcare and other public services in their communities.”
She also emphasized those with “selfless dedication to duty” — a phrase with particular resonance given the ongoing back-and-forth between the royal family, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle, who were formally stripped of their royal patronages last month. They have emphasized that their duty to others, and that their lives will remain dedicated to service. But when Buckingham Palace confirmed the couple were not returning as working royals on Feb 17th, the Palace said “in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.”
Harry and Meghan, in a pointed statement of their own, responded that “we can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”
The Commonwealth Day service aired hours before Harry and Meghan’s sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey will air in the United States, a scheduling conflict that reveals just how little communication there currently is between the Sussexes in Santa Barbara and Buckingham Palace. However, despite the ongoing family tensions, the Queen’s speech was not likely deliberately pointed at anything other than the Commonwealth.According to royal author Robert Lacey, the Queen’s reference to ‘selfless dedication to duty’ is not necessarily directed at the Sussexes. “The word ‘duty’ is a staple of her vocabulary,” said royal biographer Robert Lacey. “The last thing the Queen would dream of is to use her Commonwealth Day speech to take a dig at her temporarily errant grandson.”
In her speech the Queen paid tribute to the way communities and countries around the Commonwealth have united to support each other during the Covid Pandemic, the success of the vaccine programs, and how technology has made us feel close during periods of isolation. She also spoke about celebrating friendship and having “an opportunity to reflect on a time like no other” and how “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.”
In what is being presented as a show of unity, all senior members of the royal family took part in this afternoon’s televised ceremony. Prince Charles filmed an address in Westminster Abbey in which he applauded the “extraordinary determination, courage and creativity” of people in the face of “heart-breaking suffering.” Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall talked to Clare Balding about children’s literacy, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex took video calls with medical and charity staff from around the world.
In the above clip from the program, Kate and William chat in a video call with Dr. Zolelwa Sifumba, an advocate for the rights of health workers in South Africa. “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,” Kate said. William has also been making weekly phone calls to NHS staff up and down the country to thank them for their work. Harry and Meghan, who made their last public appearance alongside the Royal Family at the Commonwealth Day service last year, were not invited to take part in the program.
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