It's hard to believe it's been nearly a year since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Last Commonwealth Day, the Royal Family all gathered together at Westminster Abbey in London for the annual service.
Due to COVID-19, that annual gathering wasn't possible this year, but the Queen, Prince William, Duchess Kate, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla and the Countess of Wessex were all part of A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, put together for BBC One on March 7.
In her first Commonwealth Day address since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the Queen praised health care workers – as she consistently has throughout this global ordeal. She also took the opportunity to reflect on what we all share during at this time, even if our experiences of the pandemic may not have been quite the same.
"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 experience 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," the monarch said in her annual message.
"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 Queen also shared some of her experiences using technology to embark on digital engagements over the last year, as the clip showed her laughing and enjoying speaking with people representing her patronages and causes close to her heart throughout 2020 and early 2021.
"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.
"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," she shared. "We have all continued to experience the support, breadth of experiences and knowledge that working together brings, and I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community."
The video sees Her Majesty walking through St. George's Hall at Windsor Castle, which has been decorated with flags all 54 member nations of the Commonwealth. Scenes from around the world are shown during the clip, featuring people lining up for COVID-19 testing and vaccines, the latter of which the Queen and Prince Philip, her husband, received in January.
Her Majesty looked elegant in a blue dress and matching jacket by Angela Kelly, and also wore the chrysanthemum sapphire and diamonds brooch for the event. It is one of her favourite pieces of jewelry, and she has worn it for occasions close to her heart, including many official portraits. It was most recently seen in a photo released for her 73rd anniversary with Philip in November 2020.
Philip remains in hospital, having been moved back to King Edward VII hospital last week following a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St. Bartholomew's. He has been in hospital since last month.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also appeared during the broadcast, speaking with medical staff and charity volunteers around the Commonwealth who have been key to helping stop the spread of COVID-19 and roll out vaccination campaigns in all member nations.
The couple shared a special clip with South Africa's Dr. Zolelwa Sifumba, who opened up about how the pandemic has affected health care workers' mental health and what she wants to do to help those affected by the trauma caused by COVID-19. Mental health is a key cause for Kate and William, both of whom have spent much of their time since the pandemic began checking in with students, front-line health care workers and many others about their mental well-being.
In his own remarks, the Prince of Wales said the pandemic has caused "universal devastation" and said the response to it shows how working together to overcome a difficult challenge can be a lesson put towards fighting climate change.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to change course by harnessing the extraordinary potential of our Commonwealth family," Charles said in his speech. "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."
Camilla appeared from Westminster Abbey with broadcaster Clare Balding, and spoke about reading and education. The broadcast took place a day before International Women's Day, and many advocates have spoken out about how education for women and girls has been disrupted because of the pandemic in many parts of the world.
"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," Camilla said. "I just feel very strongly that all children should be taught to read."
Sophie joined three women to speak about how they have been supporting other women and their communities throughout the Commonwealth over the last year.
The Royal Family's broadcast comes the same day as Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey, which will be broadcast on Global TV