Monday 8 March 2021 is Commonwealth Day, an annual marker that celebrates the union of Commonwealth nations across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific and Europe. Commemorations will primarily take place virtually rather than in person this year, without the usual Westminster Abbey service – which was memorably the last group outing for the royals before the pandemic, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s last public appearance with the rest of The Firm.
Yet the Royal Family are making sure to honour the event nonetheless. On Sunday 7 March, the Queen, who is head of the Commonwealth, will be joined by a number of senior royals in a BBC One programme, A Celebration for Commonwealth Day. The special feature – set to air just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah interview is broadcast in the US – will include appearances from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the Countess of Wessex.
It will showcase the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message, in which the monarch ‘will pay tribute to the way in which communities across the family of nations have come together in response to the pandemic’, according to a statement from Buckingham Palace. Prince Charles has also recorded a special message, in which he will address ‘the universal devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic’, as well as celebrating ‘the critical work being carried out by nations across the Commonwealth to combat climate change and protect its unique landscapes, marine environments and biodiversity.’
Following the recent launch of The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room, Camilla’s Instagram book club, the royal will speak to broadcaster Clare Balding ‘about the importance of books and reading for children across the Commonwealth, especially in a year of isolation and disrupted education.’ The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, meanwhile, will be shown speaking to ‘medical, charity and voluntary staff from across the Commonwealth to hear more about the work they have been carrying out to care for those within their communities’ in the midst of the pandemic.
In a nod to International Women’s Day, which also falls on 8 March, the Countess of Wessex will speak to three women from across the Commonwealth, ‘to hear about their experiences of supporting other women and their wider communities.’ The Countess has often spoken up about the rights of women, having championed the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) since International Women’s Day in 2019.
The BBC programme will include a reflection from Denise Lewis, a two-time Commonwealth Games heptathlon champion, and prayers led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle. Buckingham Palace added that the Commonwealth theme for 2021 is ‘Delivering A Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’, which will seek to celebrate the efforts by the 54 Commonwealth countries ‘to achieve their common goals, including protecting natural resources, boosting trade, and delivering a peaceful, prosperous and more sustainable future for all.’
The special broadcast will also shine a light on ‘Her Majesty’s lifetime commitment to the Commonwealth’. The monarch became Head of the Commonwealth in 1952, when she was just 26 years old. Since then, it has grown from having seven to 54 nation members, with the Queen undertaking more than 200 visits to Commonwealth countries throughout her reign.
A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, organised with the support of the Royal Commonwealth Society and Westminster Abbey, will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 7 March at 5pm
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