The Queen and the Commonwealth Games
Written by Philip Barker
The Queen’s close association with the Commonwealth Games as patron is embodied in its most enduring symbol, a Baton which carries her message of greeting to the athletes. It is particularly appropriate that it should visit London for the weekend of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
To celebrate The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, we look back at her longstanding history with the Commonwealth Games.
In 1947, she had sent a message of a different kind to the Commonwealth to mark her 21st birthday when she was still known as Princess Elizabeth.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service,” she said in a Radio broadcast made from South Africa.
“As I speak to you today from Cape Town I am six thousand miles from the country where I was born, I am certainly not six thousand miles from home.
“That is the great privilege belonging to our place in the worldwide Commonwealth, that there are homes ready to welcome us in every continent of the earth. Before I am much older I hope I shall come to know many of them.”
It is a sentiment that she has expressed many times since when attending the Commonwealth Games. She acceded to the throne in 1952, and was soon a familiar figure at many sporting events, both in Great Britain and across the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh had been present to watch the closing stages of the 1954 Commonwealth Games in the Canadian city of Vancouver. He became President of the Commonwealth Games Federation the following year to begin his own long personal association.
In 1958, the Games were to be held in Cardiff, and arrangements were in hand for the Queen to attend. There was also to be an innovation as the Games approached. The Queen was to consign a message to a ceremonial Baton which was to be conveyed by relay runners to Cardiff. Here the words were to be read as the climax of the Opening Ceremony.
In the words of the official protocol instructions,
"The athlete carrying the message will enter the arena and run around the track to the saluting dais and hand the baton to the Duke who will open it and read it to the assembled company."
The message itself had been placed in a Baton designed by Colonel Roy Crouch, Deputy Lieutenant of Glamorgan and chairman of the Medals Committee. It "embodied the Welsh dragon in bold relief and enamelled colour surrounded with engraved features of the daffodil and leek, and richly gilt".
The baton was made in silver gilt by silversmith Catherine Magrath at Turner and Simpson, a company in the famous Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. The first Relay began only a few days before the Games were to open.
It was the Duke of Edinburgh who met the first Baton Bearer Roger Bannister and his escorts Chris Chataway and Peter Driver. All three had won gold medals at the 1954 Vancouver.
The handover of the Baton was very simple, but already it had emerged that the Queen was feeling unwell. The trio of runners set out through the Palace Gates and the Baton travelled overnight and passed through Coventry, Leamington and Birmingham, all host centres in 2022 as it headed towards North Wales. Eventually, it crossed the border at Chirk and made its way down the West Coast to Cardiff. Prince Philip piloted his plane as it landed at Cardiff airport. Later he received the Baton from the final runner Ken Jones, a double international in athletics and rugby union.
When the Baton was opened, Prince Philip read the Queen’s words:
“To all athletes assembled at Cardiff for the 6th British Empire and Commonwealth Games, I send a warm welcome and my very best wishes. I am delighted that so many Commonwealth countries have sent teams to Wales for these Games. The number is larger than ever and more than three times as great as for the first meeting at Hamilton in 1930.
This is welcome proof of the increasing value which is being placed today on physical strength and skill as an essential factor in the development of the whole man, healthy in mind and body. It also gives the greatest personal pleasure to know that so many members of the Commonwealth family are meeting in friendly rivalry and competition. I hope that many lasting friendships will grow from this great meeting of athletes and spectators and that you will all go home with a better understanding of the value of our Commonwealth of nations.”
The message ended with an optimistic note. "I am greatly looking forward to being with you at the end of next week." It was not to be.
Although the newspapers carried daily reports on the Queen’s health she was still too unwell to travel. Instead, she recorded a special message which was to be played to the crowd in Cardiff over loudspeakers at the Closing Ceremony and broadcast to the world.
By a cruel stroke of fate, I have been prevented from visiting North and South Wales," she said. "I regret particularly not being with you in Cardiff today for this great meeting of Commonwealth athletes.
"I want to speak to take this opportunity of speaking to all Welsh people, not only in this arena but wherever they may be.
“The British Empire and Commonwealth Games in the capital, together with all the activities of the festival of Wales, have made this a memorable year for the principality.
"I have therefore decided to mark it further with an act that I hope will give as much pleasure to all Welshmen as it does to me. I intend to create my son Charles Prince of Wales today.
“When he is grown up I will present him to you at Caernarvon."
At the time, Organising Committee chairman Sir Godfrey Llewellyn had described the gesture as "a matter of great joy shared by all our Empire and Commonwealth friends. That the announcement was made at the end of the Games was a signal honour," he said.
Sir Godfrey's daughter Gwenllian Hacket-Pain attended the Ceremony and recalled the moment when the speech was relayed.
"I was there when the recorded announcement was played, nobody knew anything about it so it was a great surprise when it was announced that Charles would become Prince of Wales.
"The wonderful thing was that the whole crowd burst into song with 'God Bless the Prince of Wales.’"
For Prince Charles, the announcement was the start of his own connection with the Commonwealth Games which in 2018 saw him become the most recent person to read the Queen’s Message.
Charles had only been a schoolboy when the 1962 Games were held in Perth Western Australia and there was disappointment in some quarters of the Australian press when the Queen did not bring her young family to Perth. Instead, Prince Philip travelled alone and read a message from the Queen on a searingly hot afternoon.
The next Games were scheduled for Kingston Jamaica, the first time they had been staged in the Caribbean.
In March 1966, The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in Kingston in March on the final stage of a tour of the region. They attended a fundraising ball in support of the Games and also visited the National Stadium which was to be the centrepiece for competitions.
The Royal couple toured a rally of Jamaican youth in an open-top land rover in an open-top land rover before youngsters performed music and dance in a display for the couple.
Then in late July, only a few days before she presented football’s World Cup trophy to England captain Bobby Moore after the final at Wembley, she stepped out into the courtyard at Buckingham Palace to place her message for Jamaica into a specially designed baton. Canadian athlete Bruce Kidd, a gold medallist over six miles at the 1962 Games received it, accompanied by 1962 Marathon champion Brian Kilby and his England teammate Bruce Tulloh.
As the Queen headed to her Scottish residence at Balmoral, Prince Philip arrived in Kingston with Princess Anne a few days later. They were soon joined by Prince Charles who had travelled from school in Australia.
The Edinburgh Games in 1970 were the first to be attended by The Queen.
In the weeks before the Games, the Queen was touring Canada. She handed over her message at Petitot Park at Yellowknife in the North-Western Territories.
First nation groups including representatives of the Inuvik took part in the Ceremony before the Baton was presented to Abby Hoffman, Canada’s gold medallist at the 1966 Games.
Once again, it was the Prince who opened the Games, but history was made when for the first time, the Queen was able to attend.
She watched the Swimming and athletics and even presented some of the medals, notably to the great Kenyan runner Kip Keino after his victory in the 1500 metres.
As the Games came to an end at the Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh the Queen spoke the traditional words to close the Games and call the athletes of the Commonwealth to the 1974 Games in Christchurch New Zealand.
“May they display cheerfulness and concord, so that the spirit of our family of nations may be carried on with ever greater eagerness, courage, enthusiasm and honour, for the good of humanity and the peace of the world.”
In 1974, the Christchurch Games were so early in the year that the Queen sent her message from Sandringham, her usual residence for Christmas in East Anglia.
Just over a month later, the Queen arrived on the Royal Yacht Britannia and the family was joined by Prince Charles, then serving in the Royal Navy.
At the Closing Ceremony, the Queen and Prince Philip left the stadium in a Land Rover with a cheerful escort of athletes of all nations running alongside. It was an example which would be taken up by athletes when the Queen closed the Brisbane Games in 1982, in Edinburgh at the 1986 Games and even in Auckland in 1990.
In 1978 the Queen broke with tradition by arriving for the Opening Ceremony of the Games. A few days earlier she had presented the Baton to Kenyan runner Ben Jipcho.
The Games were held in Edmonton, Canada so organisers ensured that the Baton reflected the traditions and lore of the Canadian first nations.
It was made from a Narwhal tusk by Inuit artist Nick Sikkuark and flown to Canada where surviving medallists from 1930 offered a welcome in Hamilton Ontario.
It visited all the Provinces before Diane Jones-Konihowski, later to win pentathlon gold, handed it back to the Queen who performed the Opening Ceremony for the first time.
"In recent years, as your President, Prince Philip has performed the Opening Ceremony and read my message," she joked.
"Today the roles are reversed and for the first time I am able to give you my message in person."
In fact, the CGF regulations of the time specified that when the Queen reads the message herself it is described as an “Address,”.
When the Games returned to Canada 16 years later, the Queen again arrived for the Opening Ceremony. This time, she entered the stadium in a McLaughlin Buick, made for her father King George VI when he visited Canada in 1939. Representatives of the Coast Salish first nation presented her with a welcome figure "a talisman of peace and harmony."
It was a model of the large figures used in “Potlatch”, a feasting ceremony and had open arms in welcome. It had been carved by Doug LaFortune a master carver from the Tsawout people and now has a place of honour in the Royal collections.
The show included a demonstration of the traditional Iroquois game of Lacrosse before Her Majesty entered a First Nation "Big House" to read her address and open the Games.
In 1998, the Queen reverted to her normal practice and arrived for the Closing Ceremony. She began her speech but fireworks apparently detonated prematurely. Undisturbed, she simply waited until the display concluded before completing the closing declaration.
The Games return to England this summer for the first time since Manchester 2002. That year also coincided with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
The Queen made a tour of the United Kingdom and for the first time, witnessed the progress of her Baton en route. She was visiting Temple Newsam Park in Leeds when the Baton arrived.
It was carried by rugby star Jason Robinson and handed to charity campaigner Jane Tomlinson who handed it to the Queen before it continued its journey.
Organisers also planned another first,
"She had only ever attended the opening or the closing of the Games however it was felt appropriate that in her Jubilee year, the Queen should attend both."
The Royal Standard was raised above the City of Manchester Stadium at the very instant the Royal Limousine arrived. It made a circle of the Stadium to “Crown Imperial” a march composed for the coronation of the Queen’s father King George VI. Appropriately, the composer Sir William Walton had been born in nearby Oldham.
As the ceremony came to its climax, the Queen watched as a balloon appeared above the stadium. Suspended below was acrobat Lindsay Butcher with the Queen's baton which she handed to Olympic and Commonwealth heptathlon champion Denise Lewis waiting on stage.
On stage, she passed the Baton to Worcester schoolgirl Sarah Leadbetter, winner of a competition on the BBC children’s television programme Blue Peter, round the world sailor Ellen Macarthur, Kenya’s three-time world steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, Australian swimmer Susie O’Neill, a ten-time gold medallist, Sir Steve Redgrave, five-time Olympic champion and a triple rowing gold medallist in 1986, the last time the sport was included in the Games. Then it was the turn of Canada’s world Olympic and Commonwealth sprinter Donovan Bailey.
Finally, Manchester United and England captain David Beckham appeared in a brilliant white tracksuit adorned with the British flag. He was joined by Kirsty Howard, a youngster with a serious heart condition. He had befriended Kirsty when she had been the mascot to the England football team the previous autumn.
Together they presented the baton before the Queen read her address.
“The Jubilee Baton Relay symbolises how the Commonwealth brings people together. All of us participating in this ceremony tonight, whether athletes, or spectators, or those watching on television around the world, can share in the ideals of this unique association of nations.
We can all draw inspiration from what the Commonwealth stands for: our diversity as a source of strength; our tradition of tolerance, requiring respect for others and a readiness to learn from them; our focus on young people, for they are the future.
These Games, the friendly Games, embody these values. I congratulate those who have organised this great occasion and I look forward along with millions around the world to following ten days of sporting excellence and athletic achievement.
It is my pleasure in this my Golden Jubilee Year to declare the 17th Commonwealth Games open,”
After a wonderful Games blessed with glorious weather, rain, considered by some to be characteristic of Manchester returned for the Closing Ceremony though it was not allowed to affect the exuberance of the celebrations.
The Queen closed the Games sheltering under an umbrella held by Commonwealth Games President Michael Fennell.
Performers laid out a giant portrait of the Queen at the centre of the stadium and also formed the message “Seek Peace” before other performers joined up to make a human portrayal of the Union Flag in red white and blue.
The Queen and Prince Philip departed to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory by Sir Edward Elgar, a former master of the King’s music. The tune was used as England’s victory anthem for medal ceremonies at those Games.
In 2006, The Games in Melbourne were to be opened by the Queen, the first time she would do so on Australian soil.
It was also the year she celebrated her 80th birthday, so organisers incorporated some special elements in the Ceremony.
Harry White a Youth Ambassador for “Plan Australia” delivered a special greeting.
“Your majesty during the past 54 years of your reign, you have been the glue that has held us all together in the great Commonwealth of nations, in good times and bad times, the love and great affection that we all hold for you is spread across one-third of the world’s population, in our Commonwealth.” he said.
He then introduced New Zealand’s soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to sing Happy Birthday.
The last time the Queen attended the Games in person was in 2014 for the Games held in Glasgow. To reflect her own personal connections with Scotland, the national anthem was performed in the same way that it is at the Braemar Gathering, the annual Highland Games, which the Queen first attended back in 1933.
"It all came from the Braemar Gathering because I do the national anthem every year for the arrival of the Queen," said Robert Lovie who sang the anthem in Glasgow.
"That is where they picked up the idea, the Queen being welcomed to the highlands in this very traditional Games, they wanted to take that down to the Commonwealth Games. It was just one of the things in life that you never think you would be asked to do. The memory will never leave me, it was very special." he said.
At the Opening Ceremony, the Baton was brought into the Celtic Park Stadium by Sir Chris Hoy who handed it to Tunku Imran, then the CGF President.
Unfortunately, it proved difficult for him to release the message, much to the amusement of the Queen.
“Chris Hoy wasn’t much help” joked Tunku Imran afterwards.
Eventually, the catch did release but drew blood so he presented the message with one hand behind his back.
As the sport began, the Queen was joined by other members of the Royal Family to visit the Games venues.
At hockey, Australian players Jayde Taylor and Brooke Peris timed their “selfie” to perfection, just as the Queen walked behind them.
Her Majesty’s expression suggested that she was very aware of what was happening.
The 2022 Games will be poignant for the Queen as they will be the first since the passing of Prince Philip.
In her Christmas broadcast message to the Commonwealth the Queen looked ahead to Birmingham 2022.
“We look forward to the Commonwealth Games. The baton is currently travelling the length and breadth of the Commonwealth, heading towards Birmingham, a beacon of hope on its journey. It will be a chance to celebrate the achievements of athletes and the coming-together of like-minded nations,”
The Commonwealth Games themselves seem certain to set the seal on a jubilee like no other.