Harry hails Queen and Prince Philip at start of Caribbean tour

Updated: 

Prince Harry has marked the start of a major tour of the Caribbean by congratulating his grandparents, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, on their 69th wedding anniversary.

Harry has travelled to the West Indies for a seven-country tour over 15 days on behalf of the Queen to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of the region.

In Antigua's Clarence House, built for the royal who commissioned the Prince of Wales' official London residence of the same name, Harry received a warm welcome from Governor General Sir Rodney Williams last night.

It was where his great-aunt, Princess Margaret, spend two weeks of her honeymoon in 1960, but it had fallen into complete disrepair until a British businessman donated more than £2 million to renovate it.

The prince officially re-opened the building that was constructed for the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV, when he was governor general in the 18th century.

Harry paid tribute to his grandparents who celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary yesterday and read a message from the Queen which said: "Prince Philip and I send our warmest wishes to Antigua and Barbuda on the occasion of this celebration to mark 35 years of independence.

"I have fond memories of visiting your country in 1966, 1977 during the Silver Jubilee and again in 1985.

"I will never forget the warmth of your people and the incredible natural beauty of the islands. It has been a great privilege for me to watch Antigua and Barbuda develop into the confident country it is today with a strong national identity and a positive outlook.

"I congratulate all of you for the part you have played in building this community and creating so many opportunities for the next generation."

Ascot Michael, the country's tourism minister, reminded Harry that he and the Duke of Cambridge were brought to Barbuda by their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, for childhood holidays, saying: "We are truly pleased to welcome you back to a place of childhood memories, your home in the Caribbean."

The prince will visit Barbuda later this week, but it is understood that his programme will not allow him time to visit the places where he stayed with his mother.

Earlier in the evening the prince made an unscheduled stop at Nelson's Dockyard, a Unesco World Heritage Site in English Harbour, named after Admiral Lord Nelson, who was based there as a Royal Navy captain for four years in the 1780s.

Local historian Dr Reginald Murphy told the prince that Nelson hated the place, because half of all his sailors who arrived in Antigua died on the island from tropical diseases including malaria and yellow fever, and regarded it as a "hellhole".

But the harbour provided such superb natural shelter for the Navy's frigates that they could be stationed there all year round, even through the hurricane season, enabling Britain to dominate the region for decades.

The dockyard is made up entirely of buildings dating from 1750 to 1850, making it a unique time capsule of Britain's maritime heritage.

Princess Margaret became patron of a fund to restore the dockyard in 1955, to which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were among the donors.

Harry's Caribbean tour will take him to six countries where the Queen is head of state - Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines - and the Commonwealth nation of Guyana.

The trip has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the news Harry is dating American actress Meghan Markle who is believed to have stayed with the prince at his Kensington Palace home earlier this month.

Later today Harry will join three legends of West Indian cricket - Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Andy Roberts and Sir Curtly Ambrose - at a sporting event near Antigua's capital St John's.

Together they will tour the stadium named after Sir Viv, meeting local children and young people showcasing the many national sports played in Antigua and Barbuda.

Harry will go on to attend a charities showcase event in the tropical grounds of Government House, in St John's.

Charities including the Nolan Hue and the Halo Foundation, the Scouts and the Girl Guides will highlight the crucial work that they are carrying out in the country.

In the evening, Harry will visit Barnacle Point to attend a reception hosted by prime minister Gaston Browne, where guests will include young cultural ambassadors.