This Friday, on April 29, His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales, the second in line of succession to the British throne, will marry Miss Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey in London.
It will be the most high-profile Royal Wedding in thirty years. The announcement of the couple’s engagement on 17 November 2010 received widespread international and domestic media coverage. The level of interest on the wedding day will be unprecedented. The BBC has predicted that the wedding will be one of the most watched events in television history, with a global audience of over 2 billion people. The wedding is also likely to be extensively covered in social media – Twitter expects it to be the most tweeted event yet. Over 5,000 foreign journalists are expected to be in London this week to cover the event.
The Royal Wedding will show-case the rich tapestry of current British society that is woven by a dynamic mix of tradition and modernity. The ceremony will take place in the gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey, a venue steeped in a thousand years of history and the venue of 14 Royal Weddings and 38 Coronations, as well as the final resting place of 17 Monarchs. The guests will represent many sections of modern British society, including charity workers, serving and former military personnel, leaders of many religious faiths, musicians, sportsmen and women, as well as members of the Middleton family’s local community.
The day will be a national holiday and day of celebration across the UK as families, friends and neighbours celebrate the wedding at home and in pubs, community centres and on the streets in specially-arranged street parties.
The Royal Wedding will mark the start of a tremendously exciting period for the UK. Preparations are well under way, during 2011, for two spectacular events in 2012. The first will be the celebration in June 2012 in the UK and across the Commonwealth of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee– the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession. This will be swiftly followed in July 2012 by London’s hosting of the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
During this time, I am confident that the UK will show not only why it is one of the most exciting places to live, visit and work in the world, but also why it is such an open, connected, dynamic and creative country.
The UK has always thrived on the exchange of goods and ideas. Today, the UK is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world: home to over 160 nationalities speaking over 300 different languages. The recent census, completed nationwide last month, was made available in over 20 foreign languages. And what was the first foreign language available? Akan. Why? Because there are about 500,000 people living in the UK who hold Ghanaian nationality or have some link or other back to Ghana.
This diversity strengthens the fabric of British society. But this diversity has to be guarded and nurtured. We protect it by promoting and respecting values which underpin every democracy – freedom of speech and worship, the rule of law and equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality. Tolerance is a central pillar of British society.
The UK is therefore open to the world. The UK is a global hub for travel and commerce. London’s Heathrow Airport handles more international passengers (56 million in 2010) than any other airport; the UK is the leading recipient of inward investment in Europe, while London is the world’s leading international finance centre. It is not surprising that 75% of all Fortune 500 companies have operations in the UK.
And the UK is a top destination for education and tourism: over 400,000 young people from other countries go there to study each year, whilst 30 million tourists visit every year, many of them experiencing one of Britain’s 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, attending a Premier League football match or popping into a pub for a drink.
You may think of British people as straight-laced, reserved and overly polite. Yes, we are courteous and considerate of each other. And yes, we do like orderly queues. But we are also dynamic and passionate. We will not sit back when we think action needs to be taken to protect others elsewhere – in Afghanistan or Libya – and we like to make things happen to improve society in the UK: from a community level, by volunteers cleaning up their local park or running sports clubs for young people; to a global level, through campaigns, such as Make Poverty History, the valuable work of British charities, such as Oxfam or Save The Children, or through initiatives such as FairTrade.
This dynamism also helps drive our creativity. UK nationals have won 90 Nobel Prizes, and a fifth of all medicines are developed in the UK. Building on the foundations of Chaucer and Shakespeare, names such as JK Rowling, Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan are known the world over. Jonathan Ive of Apple has designed devices such as the iPod and iPhone. In fashion designers such as Bruce Oldfield, Stella McCartney and Ozwald Boateng have become household names – and now look out for Sophie Cranston. And in film, a quarter of all best actor and actress Oscars have been awarded to British stars – a British film The King’s Speech swept the board this year.
HRH Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton have expressed the hope that their wedding day will be an opportunity to celebrate this creative energy driving British society, and to look ahead confidently to the future. They want the event to be celebrated in the UK and across the world, and for the 5.5 million British citizens who live overseas, including the estimated 10,000 British or dual British-Ghanaian nationals living in Ghana, to be able to enjoy the special day too.
The UK and Ghana already enjoy a special relationship, a unique friendship built upon deep social and cultural links. Both nations are steeped in a long history, separately and together. And both nations are adapting quickly to the challenges ahead of them. These challenges are shared – continued economic growth, climate change, the threat from crime and lawlessness, the abuse of human rights. And the opportunities to work in partnership to confront those challenges are numerous.
I hope all Ghanaians will join me in offering HRH Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton every best wish on their special day, an event marking the start of a happy and long marriage.
By Matthew Johnson
Acting British High Commissioner to Ghana