queen commonwealth day

The Queen and Kate Middleton make appearance on Commonwealth Day TV special

The senior royals marked the special day

Diane Shipley

The royal family joined forces to mark Commonwealth Day during a special TV programme on Sunday.

The Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex appeared on BBC One's A Celebration for Commonwealth Day.

MORE: Smiling Kate Middleton wows in navy for Commonwealth Day appearance

The programme replaced the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster, which was cancelled for the first time in nearly half a century because of the pandemic.

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WATCH: The Queen talks about the importance of future relationships in Commonwealth speech

Ahead of the televised special, Buckingham Palace said: "In Her Majesty's annual Commonwealth Day message, the Queen will pay tribute to the way in which communities across the family of nations have come together in response to the pandemic."

The Queen, 94, who has reigned for nearly 70 years, is Head of the Commonwealth – a voluntary association of 54 nations.

SEE: Duchess Camilla recycles tartan look for Commonwealth Day appearance

MORE: The special meaning behind the Queen's Commonwealth Day appearance brooch

In her speech at the beginning of the broadcast, the monarch made reference to the pandemic as she said: "Over the coming week as we celebrate the friendship spirit of unity and achievement of the Commonwealth we have an opportunity to reflect on the time like no other.

"While the 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 healthcare and other public services in their communities."

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The Queen delivered a heartfelt speech at the start of the broadcast

The Queen went on to praise the "innovative technology" which has allowed people to continue to work and connect with family and friends, saying: "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."

Her Majesty finished by paying tribute to the Commonwealth.

She said: "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." 

Her Majesty has been residing at Windsor Castle throughout the lockdowns with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who is currently recovering in hospital from a procedure for a pre-existing heart condition.

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Prince Charles also delivered a speech for the occasion

During the programme, Prince Charles also recorded a message addressing "the universal devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic", and celebrating critical work to combat climate change.

The 72-year-old finished his powerful remarks by saying: "We have an unprecedented opportunity to change course by harnessing the extraordinary potential of our commonwealth family. We are uniquely placed to lead the way. So let us be the boldest of the bold and let us offer an example to the world."

His wife Camilla, 73, chatted to broadcaster Clare Balding about the importance of books and reading for children across the Commonwealth, during a year of isolation and disrupted education.

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The Duchess of Cornwall spoke about the importance of reading 

The Duchess said: "I've always had a passion for books and books have been a part of my life for so long, with a father who was a fervent bibliophile." She went on to say that her dad read to her from a young age and that gave her an interest in books.

"I just feel very strongly that all children should be taught to read," she said. 

MORE: The secret code the Queen uses with staff at official dinners

To mark both Commonwealth Day and International Women’s Day, Sophie, 56, and presenter and author June Sarpong spoke to Virginia Khunguni from Malawi and Caitlin Figueiredo from Australia, two young activists for gender equality, about the importance of teaching women skills and promoting them to leadership roles. 

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The Countess of Wessex discussed gender equality with female activists

"There can become a bit of fatigue when it comes to talking about women's rights...I'm keen to move the discussion into where it becomes a level playing field because it's win-win," the Countess said. 

Meanwhile, Prince William, 38, and Kate, 39, spoke to medical, charity and voluntary staff from across the Commonwealth and heard about how they have adapted their efforts in response to the pandemic.

Speaking to South African doctor Zolelwa Situmba, William asked for a brief picture of what it's like in South Africa at the moment with COVID-19, and the doctor replied that: "We're basically struggling and facing the brunt... the pandemic has put on a lot more pressure." 

Kate spoke about the outpouring of love for the NHS in the UK, saying "It's sad almost that it's taken the pandemic for the public to really back and support all those working on the front line." 

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The royal couple spoke to medical and voluntary staff via video link

The couple then chatted with Faysal Islam, who designed a low-cost ambulance called Safe Wheel to help address the lack of ambulances in rural parts of Bangladesh.

"It's a fantastic idea and we both wish it every success in the future,"  Kate said.

The Cambridges then spoke to Heidy Quah, the founder and director of Malaysian organisation Refuge for the Refugees, which has benefitted 200,000 people who might not otherwise have access to health and education. 

"Wow, that's a sizeable amount of people you've reached and it's fantastic what you're doing. Huge congratulations from Catherine and I," he responded. 

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WATCH: Will and Kate speak to frontline workers during Commonwealth Celebration

"You're obviously a vital support… keep up the good work." Kate added.

The broadcast also featured contributions from people across the Commonwealth from athlete Denise Lewis to the New Zealand youth choir.

The royal family's appearance comes just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's interview with Oprah Winfrey airs in the US.

Prince Harry and Meghan's last appearance with the Queen and senior royals was at the 2020 Commonwealth Day service, after which they stepped back from royal duties and moved to California.

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