An article by James Dauris, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives, to mark the occasion of Queen Elizabeth the Second being the longest-reigning British monarch.
This week we celebrate a once in a lifetime occasion in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth. On Wednesday, 9th September, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in more than a thousand years of British history. She overtakes the record held until now by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Her Majesty came to the throne on 6 February 1952, 63 years and seven months ago.
The Queen’s relationship with Sri Lanka is, for her, an especially personal one. A decision was reached at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference of 1952, whereby the Queen would accord herself different styles and titles in each of her realms, reflecting that in each state she acted as monarch of that particular country, regardless of her other roles. Here in Ceylon for twenty years until 1972 her official title was “Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Ceylon and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”. Her Majesty’s reign has overlapped with the prime ministerships of all 14 Prime Ministers of Ceylon and of Sri Lanka since Independence in 1947.
Her Majesty has fond memories of her first visit to Sri Lanka in 1954. As well as visiting Colombo during the ten days she spent here, she also visited Kandy where she experienced a Perahera with 140 elephants. She toured the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and spent Easter in Nuwara Eliya. As part of official engagements during the visit, Her Majesty also addressed the nation from the historic studios of Radio Ceylon, now known as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Her Majesty came back to Sri Lanka in 1981 as Head of the Commonwealth and people I have met travelling around the country fondly recall memories of her second visit.
President Maithripala Sirisena meets Queen Elizabeth II during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on March 11, 2015 in London, England (Pic courtesy President’s Media)
This is also an occasion to recall and celebrate the role Her Majesty has played as Head of the Commonwealth since 1952. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena is currently the Chairman-in-Office of the Commonwealth and he and the First Lady met The Queen at Buckingham Palace during their visit to London in March this year.
The Queen sees her responsibility for nurturing the Commonwealth as one of her most important roles. Its success is one of her proudest achievements. Looking back over more than sixty years that has seen great change around the world, one can see that her role has been vital and inspirational. The institution has grown from a small group of nations to an association of 53 independent countries spanning six continents and over 2 billion people. As Head of the Commonwealth, The Queen exercises a peaceful, courteous and trust-inspiring influence over lands that are home to more than a quarter of the population of the world. Her Majesty’s leadership and vision over the past 63 years have helped shape this group of nations around the principles of democracy, equality and peace.
The UK and Sri Lanka with other member states of the Commonwealth are committed to upholding the values set out in the Commonwealth Charter: to democracy, to respect for human rights and rule of law, to sustainable development, good governance and gender equality. It is in the spirit of this commitment that Sri Lanka and Britain are working together today in so many areas.
In a speech delivered by Her Majesty during her second visit to Sri Lanka in 1981 at the celebration of 50 years of adult franchise here, she said:
“Britain and Sri Lanka have had a long association, which has remained cordial throughout all the constitutional changes affecting our relationship, and our two countries now stand together as equal, independent members of the Commonwealth. We may be geographically far apart, but through our historic links and our common beliefs, we have developed feelings of mutual regard which overcome the tyranny of distance. We are friends and shall remain so.”
As we celebrate Her Majesty’s becoming our longest-reigning monarch, these words stand as true today as they were 34 years ago.