What to expect from the Queen's Commonwealth Day message - and Harry and Meghan's Oprah interview

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read

Watch: UK royals TV head-to-head with Harry and Meghan

On 7 March, two unusual royal events will be taking place within hours of each other.

The Queen will deliver an audio message to her Commonwealth, as the annual Commonwealth Day service is moved to screens due to continuing coronavirus restrictions.

The audio track will be a rare recorded message from the Queen, outside of her Christmas messages, and will likely reflect her commitment to the Commonwealth, which she pledged to serve more than 70 years ago.

Hours after the broadcast, her grandson and his wife will sit down with Oprah Winfrey in a 90-minute interview about royal life and their future.

Royal interviews are not a regular occurrence, and the Queen never does them. Other members of the Royal Family are rarely interviewed in this way, and some have particularly bad experiences with television interviews.

The fact that these two rare events are coming within hours of each other is a coincidence. Westminster Abbey took the decision to cancel the in-person service, which would have been held on 8 March, sometime around the beginning of February, according to an abbey spokesman.

US presenter Oprah Winfrey arrives for the wedding ceremony of Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and US actress Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018. (Photo by Ian West / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read IAN WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
US presenter Oprah Winfrey at Harry and Meghan's wedding in May 2018. (Ian West/AFP)

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Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey was announced in mid-February, meaning the palace had already agreed to the service decision before they knew how close the message would be aired to the huge interview.

The Commonwealth Day Service

The Queen always shares a message for Commonwealth Day, but last year it was simply printed in the order of service, rather than delivered by Her Majesty.

Dickie Arbiter, former palace press secretary, said the message would be from her heart, because of the importance the Commonwealth has to her.

Announcing plans for the 2021 service, Buckingham Palace said: "The Queen will pay tribute to the way in which communities across the family of nations have come together in response to the pandemic."

In 2020 she wrote of how inspired she was by the diversity of the Commonwealth, particularly when gatherings take place for the Commonwealth Games or government meetings.

She wrote of how advances in technology allowed people to have the "experience of Commonwealth connection", but that countries were also devising "new ways of working together to achieve prosperity, whilst protecting our planet".

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In 2019 she said: "We are able to look to the future with greater confidence and optimism as a result of the links that we share, and thanks to the networks of cooperation and mutual support to which we contribute, and on which we draw.

"With enduring commitment through times of great change, successive generations have demonstrated that whilst the goodwill for which the Commonwealth is renowned may be intangible, its impact is very real."

As well as the Queen, other members of the Royal Family will be involved in marking the day. 

Prince Charles has recorded a message addressing the universal devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while his wife Camilla has spoken to broadcaster Clare Balding about the importance of books and reading for children across the Commonwealth.

Prince William and his wife Kate spoke to medical, charity and voluntary staff from across the Commonwealth to hear about their work during the pandemic. 

And Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, has combined marking Commonwealth Day with International Women's Day in a chat with three women from around the Commonwealth, to hear about their experiences of supporting other women and their wider communities.

Services at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day began in 1972. Since at least 1994, Commonwealth Days have had a theme, which the Queen's message usually ties into.

Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey will also be pre-recorded, and will air first in the US on CBS.

Oprah with Meghan and Harry

Meghan, 39, will sit down with Winfrey one-on-one, to talk about "stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood…to how she is handling life under intense public pressure", before she is joined by her husband Prince Harry, 36, for the remainder of the show.

It will be the first interview the couple has done together since their engagement.

Britain's Prince Harry and his fiancée US actress Meghan Markle pose for a photograph in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace in west London on November 27, 2017, following the announcement of their engagement.
Britain's Prince Harry will marry his US actress girlfriend Meghan Markle early next year after the couple became engaged earlier this month, Clarence House announced on Monday. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS        (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
BHarry and Meghan haven't done an interview together since they announced thet=ir engagement. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

Preview clips have already given royal watchers a taste of what is to come in the two hour event. 

In one clip, Meghan expresses her relief at being able to speak to Winfrey, explaining that she had not been able to decide whether or not to do the interview when Winfrey first approached her before she married Harry. 

Answering why she is doing the interview now, she said: "We are on the other side of a lot of life experience that's happened and we have the ability to make out own choices, in a way that I couldn't have said yes to you then, that wasn't my choice to make.

"As an adult who lived a really independent life and to go into this construct that is different that I think what people imagine it to be.

"It's really liberating to have the right and the privilege in some ways to be able to say yes."

She added: "I’m ready to talk." 

In a clip released on Thursday, asked about what she thought the palace would think, Meghan said: "I don’t know how they could expect that, after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.

“And, if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, I…there is a lot that has been lost already.”

Meghan referred to 'The Firm' as she sat down to talk to Oprah about life in the royal family. (CBS)
Meghan referred to 'The Firm' as she sat down to talk to Oprah about life in the royal family. (CBS)

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Some aspects of Harry's comments have been trailed too.

At one point, discussing stepping back and his mother, he said: "My biggest concern was history repeating itself.

“I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here, talking to you, with my wife by my side, because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her, going through this process by herself, all those years ago.

“Because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other.”

Prior to the clips being released, Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair royal editor, said: "I don't think the Sussexes will want to rock the boat with the Queen and this will be a very carefully worded interview on both sides.

"The interview will I’m sure have fascinating insight but will be carefully choreographed."

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter told Good Morning Britain: "Harry and Meghan never said they wanted 100% privacy, they wanted to be able to balance their private life with their public role and they wanted people to understand what was off limits."

She said they were now more able to guard and protect the privacy of their family.

There are reports the Royal Family will be bracing itself to see what the couple say in the interview, with friends of Meghan's telling The Sunday Times she will use it to "get her voice back".

Oprah with Meghan and Harry will air on CBS at 8pm EST, on 7 March which is the early hours of 8 March in the UK.

ITV will show the programme in full on 8 March from 9pm.

The Commonwealth Service will be on BBC One on 7 March, at 5pm.