The Queen and senior members of the royal family will take part in a special television programme celebrating the Commonwealth, just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah interview is aired in the US.
The annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey has been cancelled this year for the first time in nearly half a century, because of the pandemic.
Instead the Queen will share her annual message in A Celebration For Commonwealth Day, on Sunday March 7, broadcast on BBC One.
Harry and Meghan’s intimate interview with Oprah Winfrey is being screened in a 90-minute special on CBS at 8pm in the US on Sunday, which will be in the early hours of Monday UK time.
Megxit was finalised in a 12-month review last week when Buckingham Palace confirmed Harry and Meghan would never return as working royals, and that the Queen had stripped them of their royal patronages and Harry of his honorary military roles.
They also lost their positions as president and vice-president of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT).
The Sussex camp retorted with a parting shot by saying: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal,” prompting accusations they were sticking two fingers up at the institution of the monarchy and being disrespectful to the Queen and her decades of public duty.
The Queen is the symbolic head of the Commonwealth and regards the role very highly.
Harry and Meghan were hailed as the new royal stars of the Commonwealth ahead of their wedding, having pledged themselves to a lifetime of work with the family of nations in their engagement interview.
Last year’s Commonwealth service, just weeks before England went into its first national lockdown, was Harry and Meghan’s final appearance before they quit royal duties and left to start their life in the US.
The Queen’s audio message will be pre-recorded at Windsor Castle and played over footage of the monarch at the Berkshire royal residence.
The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex will also take part in the BBC show.
They will share their perspectives of the importance of our Commonwealth links, the Abbey said.
The service, which was due to be held on Monday March 8, is a key part of the royal calendar and has been held every year since 1972.
Some 2,000 people usually gather at the church in central London in celebration of the voluntary association of 54 nations.
Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said: “The Commonwealth Service is one of the Abbey’s most important annual services, but as it is not possible to gather here, we have seized the chance to take the celebration well beyond these walls.
“We are so pleased that this rich and vibrant BBC programme with the royal family and the Abbey at its heart will celebrate our global connections at a time when we are all so physically isolated.”
The decision to replace the service with a programme this Sunday was made around the start of February, before Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah was announced.
An Abbey spokesman said: “The decision was taken jointly by the Abbey, the BBC and the royal household about three weeks ago.”
Today, the news of our damages reached Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex! Through their nonprofit, they are supporting us by replacing the roof at our transitional housing facility & helping us meet our immediate needs. THANK YOU, ARCHEWELL FOUNDATION! pic.twitter.com/rFtxzvtFRo
— Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support (@GenesisShelter) February 22, 2021
With England going into its third national lockdown in January, the prospect of a televised programme instead of a live service had been under discussion since early in the year.
The BBC show will be presented from the Abbey by broadcaster Anita Rani, and alongside music and readings, there will be a reflection by sports presenter and former athlete Denise Lewis.
The royal family will be braced for what Harry and Meghan say in their first television interview since Megxit.
The pregnant duchess is expected to discuss “stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood…to how she is handling life under intense public pressure”, before being joined by Harry to talk about their move to the US and their future plans.
In their first publicised philanthropy since the finalisation of their “divorce” from the monarchy, the duke and duchess have donated money to a women’s shelter in Texas to rebuild its storm-damaged roof.
The Genesis Shelter wrote on Twitter, expressing thanks to the Archewell Foundation: “Today, the news of our damages reached Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex!
“Through their nonprofit, they are supporting us by replacing the roof at our transitional housing facility & helping us meet our immediate needs.”