The Queen has spoken of “testing times” on the eve of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s tell all television interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Senior royals, including Prince Charles and Prince William, put on a united front by appearing alongside the monarch on a television special on Sunday to mark Commonwealth Day.
The Queen, who is the head of the Commonwealth, spoke of “a year like no other” as she commended frontline for the “courage and commitment” during the pandemic.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, former Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors, were not asked to take part.
Their interview with chat show host Ms Winfrey will air in the US on the CBS network in the early hours of Monday morning.
It will also be aired at 9pm on ITV on Monday, despite complaints of it being in poor taste as Prince Philip is still recovering from a heart operation in hospital.
In her address, the Queen praised the “selfless dedication to duty” seen across the Commonwealth, particularly on the frontline.
She said: “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 frontline who have been delivering health care and other public services to their communities.”
The Queen, who has dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth, also hailed the “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,” she said.
The Queen also stressed the importance of using “innovative technology” to stay touch with family and friends.
Normally her message would be played at the Commonwealth Day service on Monday at Westminster Abbey, but it was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Instead Charles recorded a message played on the BBC One programme addressing the universal devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He celebrated the critical work being carried out by nations across the Commonwealth to combat climate change and protect its unique landscapes, marine environments and biodiversity.
Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was filmed speaking 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.
Award-winning teacher Ranjitsinh Disale joined the conversation in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner via video link from India to share the experiences of his own students in using literacy to boost confidence and expand their horizons while studying from home.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were filmed speaking to a 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.
They at first spoke to Dr Zolelwa Sifumba, from South Africa, who has been working over the past decade to advocate for the rights of healthcare workers and medical staff working on the front line.
The Duke and Duchess were then filmed speaking with Faysal Islam, co-founder of “Safewheel”, an organisation which has modified auto-rickshaws to create an affordable ambulance service for rural communities in Bangladesh.
Their final call was with Heidy Quah who co-founded Refuge for Refugees in order to help refugees in Malaysia access public services such as schooling and healthcare.
Heidy co-founded the charity when she was 18 and in 2017 became the first Malaysian to receive a Queen’s Young Leaders Award.
Marking both Commonwealth Day and International Women’s Day, which is also being celebrated on Monday, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, spoke to three women from around the Commonwealth and heard about their experiences of supporting other women and their wider communities.
Joining the call from Australia was Caitlin Figueiredo, founder and CEO of “Jasiri Australia”, which aims to transform women and girls’ access to politics, empowering the next generation of female leaders.
Sophie also reconnected with Virginia Khunguni, founder of the Malawi-based “Girls Arise for Change”, who Her Royal Highness met while visiting the country in 2017, to learn about the project’s work with girls who have escaped early marriages, sexual exploitation and child labour.
The Countess is committed to supporting the UK’s efforts in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), and has visited a number of countries to highlight the trauma and stigma faced by survivors.
Caitlin and Virginia, who are both Queen’s Young Leaders, were joined by Prince’s Trust Ambassador, broadcaster and campaigner June Sarpong.
Ms Sarpong is the co-founder of the “Women: Inspiration and Enterprise Alliance”, an international conference supporting female excellence and empowerment which provides a platform for women leaders to network.
During the call, the women discussed the importance of supporting one another to share skills and how better outcomes are achieved when women are equally represented.
Full transcript of the Queen’s Commonwealth speech:
“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.
“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.”