The Queen has held her first major event at Buckingham Palace since the pandemic began, launching her Commonwealth Games 2022 baton on a global relay.
Paralympic gold medallist Kadeena Cox was given the honour of taking the baton on the first leg of its 90,000-mile journey which will lead to the opening ceremony in the host city Birmingham.
The Queen handed the symbol for the “friendly games” to four-time Paralympic champion Cox – who won two gold medals at Rio 2016 and two at Tokyo 2020 – after a message to the athletes and the Commonwealth was inserted into the baton.
The televised event in the palace forecourt was another step in the gradual return to normality following the upheavals of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Cox, who took the baton on a brief journey around the nearby Queen Victoria Memorial before handing it to another competitor, said about the experience: “It’s really special.
“I fall into this category where I’m very diverse – I’m a female, disabled, black athlete – for me I think that’s what the Commonwealth represents and especially being in Birmingham which is such a diverse place.
“It’s that coming together and unifying of all the different nations, of all the different cultures, of all the different religions – everything coming together and culminating in one amazing sporting Games.”
Among the guests were Baroness Scotland, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, sports minister Nigel Huddleston, representatives from the Commonwealth Games Federation, grassroots sports organisations from the West Midlands, and athletes competing in the Games.
The Earl of Wessex joined the Queen in his role as vice-patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation, which she supports as patron.
A strand of platinum has been incorporated into the baton in recognition of the Queen’s 70-year reign, which will be celebrated next year, and it is packed with hi-tech gadgets for its journey to all 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth over 294 days.
The heartbeats of the 7,500 baton bearers will be displayed on a monitor and it also features a 360-degree camera, GPS tracking and “lungs” – atmospheric sensors which use laser technology to analyse environmental conditions.
The Queen’s message will be carried around the globe in the baton but will only be read at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on July 28.
A the palace event, the Queen’s message was handed to her by Haseebah Abdullah, 27, a female boxing coach based at Windmill Boxing Gym in Smethwick and one of the Birmingham 2022 “Hometown Heroes”.
The group of volunteers, coaches and managers, who have been working behind the scenes to support grassroots sports in the West Midlands, accompanied the baton when it first arrived at the palace in a procession headed by a tri-service military band.
During the ceremony the Queen met some of the designers of the high-tech baton, including Laura Nyahuye, artist and chief executive of the Coventry-based arts organisation Maokwo.
In a video message, she said the copper, aluminium and brass used to make the symbol of the Games spoke to the public because the ordinary metals “have more soul and heart because more of us relate to them”.
Birmingham’s cultural life was part of the launch ceremony with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performing by video link while Casey Bailey, the city’s Poet Laureate, gave a live reading from the grounds of the palace.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the Games, saying: “We are honoured to host the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year, where they will not only be carbon-neutral for the first time, but also feature the largest para-sport programme in their history.
“Birmingham represented the country today as the Queen’s Baton Relay began, connecting the United Kingdom with the 72 nations and territories taking part in the Games.”
The first overseas stop for the Queen’s Baton Relay will be Cyprus, where the symbol of the Games will arrive from Birmingham Airport on Saturday.