Queen stresses importance of connection during 'testing times' just hours ahead of Harry and Meghan's Oprah interview
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.
Senior royals including 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.
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.
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.”
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.