MALTA DIARY: They came……they saw…..and they undoubtedly conquered!
Very well, so I have to eat my own words – and will do so gladly. A few weeks back I wrote that the impending visits of Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, her son Prince Charles the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles Duchess of Cornwall were unlikely to cause more than a ripple of interest.
How mistaken I was!
The Paris horrors in the interim threatened to cause their visit to be cancelled and for a few days the debate was “will she…won’t she…?” In the end she did and the only thing one can say about the Royal troupe is “They came……they saw…..and they undoubtedly conquered!”
Weather-wise the 24th CHOGM Summit kicked-off on a shaky footing, causing Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to remark that Malta normally enjoys 300 sunny days a year and 65 other dubious days…unfortunately the Summit had to be held on three of the 65 as howling winds and intermittent showers of rain cascaded on these small islands.
Notwithstanding, the 89-year-old Queen and 95-year-old Prince Philip stole the scene and lit up three dark days with a blaze of enthusiasm throughout the island as the Maltese public flocked to pay tribute to them in a wave of unprecedented nostalgia.
Braving the foul weather, crowds young and old flocked everywhere, cheered and called out to them. The national television and radio stations covered almost every move they made with live transmissions and a stream of past documentaries that provoked many, many memories.
However, standing out and above everything was the highly conspicuous love and affection that the Queen and her husband have for the Maltese islands, a point emphasised by the Queen in almost every speech she made, by their body language and their clear memories of the times in the past spent here.
The Queen recalled how she first came to Malta in 1949 as a young Royal Naval bride as Prince Philip was stationed here and they lived in relative freedom for a number of months which she described as “the happiest days of our lives”. Since then, she and her offsprings paid a number of short visits, all of which they remembered with pride.
Opening the CHOGM Summit at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Queen Elizabeth specifically mentioned that Malta and the Maltese have a moral strength and fortitude that far outstrips its geographical size. In a later speech she deliberated on her father’s (King George VI) decision to award Malta the George Cross in 1942 for “valour and bravery”, the only time that this award has been collectively awarded to a country rather than an individual.
The scheduled visits took the Royal couple to all their favourite past haunts, including a boat-ride across the Grand Harbour, to Bighi and Kalkara and naturally to the Marsa Racecourse although sadly a scheduled Polo match had to be cancelled because the pitch was flooded. However, they did manage to see a pony race for child jockeys and a trotting race with the Queen presenting trophies to the winners.
As usual, Prince Philip played his part as the faithful and reliable companion standing discreetly in the shadows but naturally had to make his mark.
On a visit to the Anglican cathedral in Valletta accompanied by Malta’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, the Prince suddenly turned on the Archbishop and said “we’re Christians too you know” to which the Archbishop replied “great, that’s very good to hear”.
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall had their own separate schedules and were equally well met with verve and enthusiasm and shows of public affection.
Oh yes, in the meanwhile there was also some sort of CHOGM Summit taking place with the attendance of British PM David Cameron, the Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, the new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, the Nigerian Prime Minister Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, and many others including guests French President Francois Hollande and the United Nations General Secretary Ban ki-Moon.
These however were just a sideshow to the main Royal attraction.
As for CHOGM itself, as with every Summit of this nature, sadly many words and pledges of commitments and cash being thrown at problems but whether these will actually materialise into anything remains to be seen.
NOTE: Pictures with thanks and acknowledgement to “The Times of Malta”, “Malta Today” and “The Malta Independent”.