Commonwealth Day: Queen issues message as other royals attend service

Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William and Kate represented the Queen at the Commonwealth Service today after the 95-year-old monarch missed the event at Westminster Abbey for the first time in nearly a decade. 

The Queen had earlier said she hoped the Commonwealth ‘remains an influential force for good in our world for many generations to come’ as she renewed her promise made in 1947 to ‘always be devoted in service’. The head of state’s Commonwealth Day Message was issued by Buckingham Palace today ahead of the annual service.

The Queen, who has recently recovered from coronavirus and has been experiencing mobility issues, had hoped to attend the important event in the royal calendar alongside Charles, Camilla, William and Kate.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were greeted as they arrived – while inside the place of worship, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were waiting and the two royal couples kissed each other on the cheeks. 

But last Friday, palace officials revealed that the Queen – who is Head of the Commonwealth – had asked her son Charles to represent her at the service after discussing arrangements with members of the Royal Household.

Ensuring the comfort of the monarch, who now regularly uses a stick and has spoken openly about her mobility issues, is thought to have been an overriding consideration in her decision not to take part.

The monarch’s announcement three days ago came after the order of service for today was printed – as she was named in the document, with the congregation required to stand when she arrived and made her way to her seat.

The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, the Dean of Westminster, told the congregation today: ‘In this Jubilee year, in which we rejoice in the 70 years that Her Majesty the Queen has presided over this Commonwealth, we also thank God for her faithfulness and commit ourselves to learn from an example of duty and service. In words and music in the Abbey, we will now retrace the steps of her great Commonwealth tour begun 70 years ago.’

Among the arrivals before the royals were Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss along with David Walliams who brought his mother Kathleen. 

Also attending this afternoon were Sarah Clarke, Lady Usher of the Black Rod, Mark Spencer, Leader of the House of Commons, and US ambassador Philip Reeker – as well as Baroness Patricia Scotland and MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

The Queen said today that it was ‘rewarding to observe a modern, vibrant and connected Commonwealth that combines a wealth of history and tradition with the great social, cultural and technological advances of our time’.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Westminster Abbey this afternoon ahead of the Commonwealth Service

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Westminster Abbey this afternoon ahead of the Commonwealth Service

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Westminster Abbey this afternoon ahead of the Commonwealth Service

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the Commonwealth Service

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the Commonwealth Service

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

The Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she attends the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey this afternoon

The Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she attends the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey this afternoon

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon to attend the Commonwealth Service

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon to attend the Commonwealth Service

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

The Prince of Wales (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey today

The Prince of Wales (left) and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey today

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

The Duchess of Cornwall

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey today

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey today

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey today

Prince Charles and Camilla arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

Prince Charles and Camilla arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London this afternoon

(From left, front row): Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, Kate and Princess Alexandria at Westminster Abbey today

(From left, front row): Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, Kate and Princess Alexandria at Westminster Abbey today

Princess Alexandria

Princess Alexandria

Princess Alexandria arriving at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on Commonwealth Day today

Writing from Windsor Castle, the Queen also said she had ‘enjoyed the privilege of hearing what the relationships built across the great reach and diversity of the Commonwealth have meant to people and communities’.

And she said: ‘In these testing times, it is my hope that you can draw strength and inspiration from what we share, as we work together towards a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future for all.

‘My life will always be devoted in service’: The Queen’s Commonwealth Day Message in full 

In this year of my Platinum Jubilee, it has given me pleasure to renew the promise I made in 1947, that my life will always be devoted in service. 

Today, it is rewarding to observe a modern, vibrant and connected Commonwealth that combines a wealth of history and tradition with the great social, cultural and technological advances of our time. That the Commonwealth stands ever taller is a credit to all who have been involved.

We are nourished and sustained by our relationships and, throughout my life, I have enjoyed the privilege of hearing what the relationships built across the great reach and diversity of the Commonwealth have meant to people and communities.

Our family of nations continues to be a point of connection, cooperation and friendship. It is a place to come together to pursue common goals and the common good, providing everyone with the opportunity to serve and benefit. In these testing times, it is my hope that you can draw strength and inspiration from what we share, as we work together towards a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future for all.

And on this special day for our family – in a year that will include the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the Commonwealth Games – I hope we can deepen our resolve to support and serve one another, and endeavour to ensure the Commonwealth remains an influential force for good in our world for many generations to come.

ELIZABETH R.

‘And on this special day for our family – in a year that will include the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the Commonwealth Games – I hope we can deepen our resolve to support and serve one another, and endeavour to ensure the Commonwealth remains an influential force for good in our world for many generations to come.’

Today, the Daily Mail reported that the Queen’s diary is ‘under review’ and she is unlikely to ever undertake some major public engagements such as investitures again.

Sources stress that the monarch is not ill and is ‘as committed to her duties of state as ever’.

But senior royal aides – as well as the Queen herself – are understood to have accepted that the ‘frailties that come with living a long life’ are finally catching up with her.

She will still attend public events where possible, but her appearances will be significantly curtailed. 

That means standing on her feet for hour-long public investitures are out and they will be conducted by the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and the Princess Royal instead.

A source told the Daily Mail: ‘The Queen is still as alert, able and interested as ever but, physically, she isn’t as strong as she once was, which is entirely understandable for a woman of her age.’ 

Buckingham Palace declined to comment. However, a royal source said: ‘The Royal Family understands the important role investitures play in recognising service and celebrating people’s contribution to society and there has been a real drive to catch up on the backlog created by Covid restrictions.

‘The Prince of Wales, Princess Royal and Duke of Cambridge have been leading the charge. It’s easy to envisage that they will continue in that vein but I wouldn’t rule out Her Majesty doing smaller or one-off investitures.’

The news comes after the monarch was forced to pull out of today’s Commonwealth Service. 

Last Friday, Buckingham Palace, which earlier in the week had still insisted she ‘hoped’ to be there, announced that she had asked the Prince of Wales to represent her at Westminster Abbey.

The Queen, who has suffered a string of debilitating health issues since last autumn and is increasingly using a walking stick, was extremely ‘regretful’ about the decision, it is understood. 

The Duke of Cambridge (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) at the Commonwealth Service today

The Duke of Cambridge (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) at the Commonwealth Service today

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with The Right Reverend and the Right Honourable Lord Sentamu (right) today

Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with The Right Reverend and the Right Honourable Lord Sentamu (right) today

Labour leader Keir Starmer arriving at the Commonwealth Service

Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives at Westminster Abbey

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (left) and Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) arrive at the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

TV personality and author David Walliams arrives at Westminster Abbey with his mother Kathleen this afternoon

TV personality and author David Walliams arrives at Westminster Abbey with his mother Kathleen this afternoon

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arriving at the Commonwealth Service

Sarah Clarke, Lady Usher of the Black Rod, arriving at the Commonwealth Service

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (left) and Sarah Clarke, Lady Usher of the Black Rod (right), at the Commonwealth Service today

Mark Spencer, Leader of the House of Commons, arrives at Westminster Abbey in London for the service this afternoon

US ambassador Philip Reeker arriving at the Commonwealth Service

Mark Spencer (left), Leader of the House of Commons, and US ambassador Philip Reeker (right) at Westminster Abbey today

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, at Westminster Abbey today

Baroness Patricia Scotland

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (left) and Baroness Patricia Scotland (right) arrive at Westminster Abbey for the service today

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives at Westminster Abbey in London for the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives at Westminster Abbey in London for the Commonwealth Service this afternoon

Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks with Lord-Lieutenant of London, Sir Kenneth Olisa Obe, at Westminster Abbey today

Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks with Lord-Lieutenant of London, Sir Kenneth Olisa Obe, at Westminster Abbey today

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel smile while Liz Truss appears stony-faced ahead of the service in Westminster Abbey today

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel smile while Liz Truss appears stony-faced ahead of the service in Westminster Abbey today

A steel band play outside Westminster Abbey in London today ahead of the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day

A steel band play outside Westminster Abbey in London today ahead of the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day

Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle on March 5, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle on March 5, 2021

The Queen today wrote that she 'will always be devoted in service' as she issued her Commonwealth Day Message

The Queen today wrote that she ‘will always be devoted in service’ as she issued her Commonwealth Day Message

Commonwealth Day has not been celebrated in person since March 2020 (pictured), when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their last public appearance with senior members of the royal family before moving to North America

Commonwealth Day has not been celebrated in person since March 2020 (pictured), when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their last public appearance with senior members of the royal family before moving to North America

It would have been her first public appearance since last October.

Charles and Camilla will represent the Queen at Commonwealth summit in Rwanda in June

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda on behalf of the Queen.

CHOGM will take place in Kigali during the week of June 20, following its postponement in both 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Charles said it is more important than ever that Commonwealth countries come together for the summit amid the pandemic recovery, and that he and Camilla are delighted to be attending.

The Queen, who has just recovered from a bout of Covid, called time on her overseas visits a number of years ago, and secured Charles as the future Head of the Commonwealth – when he becomes King – when she hosted the London CHOGM in 2018.

The prince last represented the Queen at the event in Sri Lanka in 2013 – a move that was interpreted as preparation for his future role as monarch.

Charles said in his message: ‘As the world works to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, and in this Jubilee year, it is more important than ever that the countries of the Commonwealth come together.

‘As a family of some 2.4 billion people from 54 nations across six continents, the Commonwealth represents a rich diversity of traditions, experience and talents which can help to build a more equal, sustainable and prosperous future. With this shared sense of common purpose, and in view of recent, enforced postponements, my wife and I are delighted to be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in June.’

The event, which is usually held in a different country every two years, brings together leaders from the 54 Commonwealth nations.

It is used to discuss topical issues affecting the Commonwealth and the wider world.

She last missed the service nine years ago, in 2013, while recovering from a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.

Before that, the Queen had not been absent from a Commonwealth Day observance service for 20 years, the last time being when she had flu in 1993.

Buckingham Palace had said she hoped to attend three significant events in March – the annual Diplomatic Reception, which was cancelled as a result of the war in Ukraine, the Commonwealth Service, and the service of thanksgiving for her late husband at Westminster Abbey on March 29.

The Mail understands that the Queen – who also contracted Covid last month – is still determined to attend the service for the Duke of Edinburgh and may even be ‘pacing herself’ in public so she can.

Last Monday, she met with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at Windsor Castle, her first in-person meeting since recovering from Covid. 

Both Mr Trudeau and other sources have said she was in good health and was not using her walking stick. 

Another source who saw her at Sandringham last month confirmed she appeared to be ‘bright, alert and walking relatively unencumbered’. 

But insiders acknowledge that, like any woman of her great age, the Queen has ‘good days and less good days, as you would expect’. 

The Commonwealth, affectionately known as the ‘family of nations’, has played an important role throughout her reign, and the Queen takes a special interest in the institution.

But last Friday, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘After discussing the arrangements with the royal household, the Queen has asked the Prince of Wales to represent Her Majesty at the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey on Monday.

‘The Queen will continue with other planned engagements, including in-person audiences, in the week ahead.’

Highlights of the service at Westminster Abbey today will include an address by former archbishop Lord Sentamu, a reflection by young Tongan leader Elizabeth Kite and special musical performances from Emeli Sande and Mica Paris.

Organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society, the service will feature the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message.

The service would have been the Queen’s first major public appearance since reaching her Platinum Jubilee milestone in February.

Her decision not to attend is likely to be interpreted as a precautionary measure by royal commentators, and a practical move, rather than a new health issue. 

Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle at a ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London today

Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle at a ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London today

A commemorative ceremony and laying of wreaths at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London this morning

A commemorative ceremony and laying of wreaths at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in London this morning

The Last Post is played at a commemorative ceremony and laying of wreaths at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

The Last Post is played at a commemorative ceremony and laying of wreaths at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

Lord Chartres, the former Bishop of London, speaks during a ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

Lord Chartres, the former Bishop of London, speaks during a ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

Baroness Patricia Scotland lays a wreath during a commemorative ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

Baroness Patricia Scotland lays a wreath during a commemorative ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates today

With the Queen due to celebrate her 96th birthday in less than six weeks, maintaining her comfort is a consideration and it is understood she has been pacing herself, although she was keen to do what work she could during her bout of Covid.

Commonwealth Day has not been celebrated in person since 2020, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their last public appearance with senior members of the royal family before moving to North America. 

It was claimed yesterday that the Queen has not been able to walk her dogs at Windsor for the last six months, although sources stressed she has been out on the estate.

And The Mail on Sunday revealed courtiers were sufficiently concerned to be discussing whether she would be mobile enough to attend Philip’s memorial. 

This will inevitably call into question how much the Queen will be able to take part in June’s celebrations to mark her Platinum Jubilee.

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