ROBERT HARDMAN: Kiwi conch-blowers and swaying Maoris marked the quirkiest day in Westminster Abbey’s calendar
Of all the titles he now holds, this is the only one which has to be earned rather than simply inherited.
So the new Head of the Commonwealth was determined to make his mark on his first Commonwealth Day in charge.
‘In succeeding Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth,’ the King told a 2,000-strong congregation in Westminster Abbey yesterday afternoon, ‘I draw great strength from her example, together with all that I have learnt from the extraordinary people I have met, throughout the Commonwealth, over so many years.’
The titular headship of the organisation is not hereditary.
However, it was almost five years ago that the leaders of the Commonwealth nations agreed unanimously at their 2018 summit that the then Prince of Wales should succeed the Queen.
The King and Queen Consort were welcomed by Kiwi conch-blowers and a swaying Maori chorus who effectively drowned out a small cross-section of assorted protesters
King Charles III stops to watch members of the Ngati Ranana London Maori Club perform
What was unusual yesterday was that the King was delivering the customary Commonwealth Day message in person and from the Abbey pulpit.
The late Queen would either issue her annual message in the form of a written statement or else pre-record it.
By delivering what served as both a sermon and a pledge to an organisation which spans almost a third of the world’s population, the King was underlining the seriousness with which he intends to take this role.
He was also alluding to the depth of personal knowledge which he brings to a famously diverse organisation.
What was unusual yesterday was that the King was delivering the customary Commonwealth Day message in person and from the Abbey pulpit
King Charles shakes hands with Commonwealth secretary general Patricia Scotland at the reception at Buckingham Palace after the service
The Prince and Princess of Wales arrive at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Day Service
‘The Commonwealth has been a constant in my own life, and yet its diversity continues to amaze and inspire me,’ he went on.
‘Its near-boundless potential as a force for good in the world demands our highest ambition; its sheer scale challenges us to unite and be bold.’
There were also echoes of his previous speeches on environmental themes made when he was Prince of Wales.
Those who decreed that he would have to take a vow of silence on such matters once he became King have been proved wrong.
‘The Commonwealth has an incredible opportunity, and responsibility, to create a genuinely durable future – one that offers the kind of prosperity that is in harmony with nature and that will also secure our unique and only planet for generations to come,’ he added.
His words complemented those of the other speaker at yesterday’s service, a young Samoan environmental activist, who issued a plea for greater support of small island nations in the frontline of climate change.
There were also echoes of his previous speeches on environmental themes made when he was Prince of Wales (King Charles meets members of the Commonwealth community)
The Abbey service – the last major event before the Coronation in May – was the usual engaging blend of pop music, dancing and ancient ceremonial
This year’s Abbey service had the added bonus of being attended by an extra layer of international leaders since London is hosting this week’s conference of Commonwealth foreign ministers.
It should have taken place at the United Nations last autumn but had been delayed following the death of the Queen.
The Abbey service – the last major event before the Coronation in May – was the usual engaging blend of pop music, dancing and ancient ceremonial.
The King was joined by a full turn-out of the new-look ‘working’ Royal Family – the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Princess Royal, and his wife, Camilla
The new Duchess of Edinbugh attends the 2023 Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey – where the order of service listed her as the ‘Countess of Wessex’
The Commonwealth Day celebration is always the quirkiest in the Abbey’s calendar.
The King and Queen Consort were welcomed by Kiwi conch-blowers and a swaying Maori chorus who effectively drowned out a small cross-section of assorted protesters on the other side of the road.
The King was joined by a full turn-out of the new-look ‘working’ Royal Family – the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and the new Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.
Their elevation to the dukedom was still so new that the order of service had listed them as the ‘Earl and Countess of Wessex’.
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