Monday 11 March saw Westminster Abbey filled with hundreds of international guests, VIPs and school children for the annual Commonwealth Day service. Among them were Rosemary Gaisie and Allia McDonald, broadcasters currently studying their masters in the UK through the CBA-Chevening bursary.

With the theme this year of  ‘Opportunity Through Enterprise’ speakers included entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. Along with the choirs and organ-backed hymns, there were music performances from Beverley Knight, and the Noisettes.

Allia McDonald, a supervising producer from TV Jamaica, said she was surprised by how entertaining the ceremony was: “I liked the mix of entertainers and speakers. They were very brief but you got something about the Commonwealth, that there is this common interest that we all share… I liked Sir Richard’s speech – the thing of  ‘screw it – let’s do it’; work on your good ideas and you can be pretty successful.”

Allia (left), and Rosemary
Allia (left), and Rosemary

Rosemary Gaisie, an editor for Ghana Broadcasting Corporation said: “I think it was exciting seeing people come from all over the world, people within the Commonwealth… And what touched me is when I saw the flags – all 54 flags within the Commonwealth – that sense of unity.”

But Gaisie had been particularly looking forward to seeing the Queen: “It was unfortunate I couldn’t, I wanted really to get closer to the Queen, I knew it was impossible, but even to catch a glimpse of her would have been nice.”

The service would have been the Queen’s first public engagement since being in hospital for a stomach bug. But she is said to have pulled out of the event in the freezing abbey to help her recovery. However she was still able to attend the Monday evening ceremony to sign the Commonwealth charter at Marlborough House.

The charter, a first in the institution’s 64-year history, and adopted by all 54 member states, sets out core beliefs, including its opposition to “all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”