Madam President, Prime Minister, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was so deeply touched that you should have invited me to return to Barbados and to join you, on behalf of The Queen, at this moment of such significance for your remarkable Nation.
The creation of this Republic offers a new beginning, but it also marks a point on a continuum – a milestone on the long road you have not only travelled, but which you have built.
From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude. Emancipation, self-government and Independence were your way-points. Freedom, justice and self-determination have been your guides.
Your long journey has brought you to this moment, not as your destination, but as a vantage point from which to survey a new horizon.
As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change.
- the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth;
- our common determination to defend the values we both cherish and to pursue the goals we share;
- and the myriad connections between the people of our countries – through which flow admiration and affection, co-operation and opportunity – strengthening and enriching us all.
For my part, this is an occasion to reaffirm the friendship I have enjoyed with Barbados since I first visited the island over fifty years ago and then, again, while serving in the Royal Navy on the then West Indies station. Across the decades, I have admired so much of what you have achieved and all you have come to represent. I have heard your voice in the world grow louder, advocating with clarity, passion and authority on issues of global significance. I have seen the power of the indomitable Bajan spirit, both at home and overseas – including through the invaluable contribution to our public life of the Barbadian diaspora in the United Kingdom.
This is, and will remain, such a special place for me. As the giant of Barbadian literature, George Lamming, evokes so powerfully “the rhythm of the winds, the silence and aroma of the night, rocks, water, pebble and branch, animal and bird noise, the temper of the sea and the mornings arousing nature everywhere to the silent and sacred communion between you and the roots you have made on this island.”
In recent years, it has meant a great deal to me to have worked alongside your government to help address the challenges facing small island states like yours – not least the existential threat posed by climate change and global warming. I have also taken great pride in the work my Prince’s Trust International has done in Barbados to create opportunity for young people through training and employment, and to help them fulfil their remarkable potential.
In these ways, and many more, I remain deeply committed to this very special country, and to your future prosperity and wellbeing. I shall always consider myself a friend of Barbados.
Madam President, Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,
Tonight you write the next chapter of your nation’s story, adding to the treasury of past achievement, collective enterprise and personal courage which already fill its pages.
Yours is a story in which every Barbadian, young and old, can take the greatest pride – inspired by what has come before them and confident about what lies ahead.
As we will sing tonight: you are the guardians of your heritage, firm craftsmen of your fate!