Queen reflects on 'testing times' in Commonwealth address - hours before Harry and Meghan's Oprah interview

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Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6 min read
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Watch: The Queen delivers annual Commonwealth message

The Queen has reflected on the "testing times" of the last year as she delivered her Commonwealth Day address just hours before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's interview with Oprah Winfrey airs in the US.

The annual Commonwealth Day service could not be held at Westminster Abbey this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but members of the Royal Family have been involved in parts of a virtual service, broadcast on BBC One on Sunday afternoon.

Every year the Queen gives an address to mark Commonwealth Day and in a rare move, she recorded the message, which spoke of the advancements in vaccines to combat COVID-19, and the sense of community and closeness built across the Commonwealth over the last 12 months.

She said: "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 front line, who have been delivering health care and other public services in their communities.

“We have also taken encouragement from remarkable advances in developing new vaccines and treatments.

“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."

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She went on to talk about the use of technology to keep connected, which she remarked was "new to some of us", adding: "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."

Dressed in an Angela Kelly delphinium blue dress and jacket, the Queen, 94, said she hoped the Commonwealth would "maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community".

The message was accompanied by new footage of the Queen walking among Commonwealth flags in Windsor Castle, where she has been living most of the time since March 2020, before the first UK lockdown was announced.

Appearing alongside her in the clips are Master of the Household Vice Admiral Sir Tony Johnstone-Burt and her assistant private secretary Matthew Magee, part of her smaller 'HMS Bubble'.

The footage showed her sitting at an ornate desk to sign the Commonwealth message.

NOTE: RETRANSMITTED AMENDING EMBARGO FROM 2200HRS TO 1700HRS GMT SUNDAY MARCH 7 Embargoed to 1700hrs GMT Sunday March 7 2021 Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle.
Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle. (PA Images)

She is seen wearing the sapphire chrysanthemum brooch which she wore for the portrait taken to mark her 73rd wedding anniversary with the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth of Nations and it is said to be one of the things she is most proud of during her nearly 70 year reign.

She is head of state in many Commonwealth nations, and maintains links with all of them, regularly receiving updates from them and attending the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meetings (CHOGM).

The 2020 Commonwealth Day service was the last royal engagement carried out by Harry and Meghan before they stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family.

The 2021 televised service comes hours before the airing of their sit down interview with TV chat show host Winfrey, with Meghan expected to reveal details of how she adjusted to royal life and reasons behind leaving the UK.

But the timing is a coincidence, with the palace and Westminster Abbey agreeing the format of the televised service before details of Winfrey's interview were released.

The interview has been filmed and will air in the US on 7 March. (CBS)
The interview with Meghan and Harry will air in the UK on Monday night. (CBS)

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In preview clips released ahead of the interview, Meghan says "the firm" was "perpetuating falsehoods" about the couple.

According to The Sunday Times, the Queen will not be watching her grandson and granddaughter-in-law's interview, which is being transmitted while her husband Prince Philip remains in hospital.

He is recovering from a heart procedure, having also had treatment for an infection.

While the Queen is said to be focusing on national issues, the paper also said royal advisers are "prepared to retaliate with fresh disclosures about the couple’s behaviour if the monarchy is attacked".

As well as the Queen's message to the Commonwealth, the service on Sunday afternoon will include video calls made by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to medical, charity and voluntary staff in South Africa, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was interview by Clare Balding in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner about the importance of reading for children, while her husband Prince Charles delivered a message reflecting on the impact of the pandemic across the country.

The Queen's Commonwealth message in full

Over the coming week as we celebrate the friendship, spirit of unity and achievements of the Commonwealth, we have an opportunity to reflect on a time like no other.

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 front line, who have been delivering health care and other public services in their communities.

We have also taken encouragement from remarkable advances in developing new vaccines and treatments.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II walks past Commonwealth flags displayed in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle, Windsor, southeast England on March 5, 2021, to mark Commonwealth Day which is to be celebrated on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Steve Parsons / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen walking past Commonwealth flags displayed in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle, before Commonwealth Day. (Steve Parsons/AFP)

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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.

The need to maintain greater physical distance, or to live and work largely in isolation, has for many people across the Commonwealth been an unusual experience.

In our everyday lives, we have had to become more accustomed to connecting and communicating by our innovative technology, which 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.

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.

And I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community.

Looking forward, relationships with others across the Commonwealth will remain important as we strive to deliver a common future that is sustainable and more secure.

So that the nations and neighbourhoods in which we live, wherever they are located become healthier and happier places for us all.

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