My Lords, I arrived as a young boy in the United Kingdom from the Gold Coast in June 1952, as the country was preparing for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Today, 70 years later, we are preparing for her funeral.
I want to acknowledge the Queen’s leadership of and contribution to the Commonwealth, and to Ghana in particular. Ghana was the first British colony to gain independence, in 1957, and it invited the Queen in November 1961. She had been invited before but was pregnant with Princess Anne at the time. It was a time of political turmoil in Ghana, and a bomb had damaged a statue of Kwame Nkrumah. The Queen shrugged off advice to cancel the trip and made a successful tour of Ghana, steadying nerves and ensuring that Ghana, later to become a republic, remained in the Commonwealth.
At the state banquet, Nkrumah toasted the Queen, saying:
“The wind of change blowing through Africa has become a hurricane. Whatever else is blown into the limbo of history, the personal regard and affection which we have for Your Majesty will remain unaffected.”
When the Queen danced with Kwame Nkrumah, it was seen by many as a symbolic moment in the history of the Commonwealth. That visit was instrumental in keeping Ghana within the Commonwealth. The Queen’s admiration for Ghana continued and when President John Kufuor was invited to a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in 2007, I was privileged to be invited, as president of the Royal College of Surgeons.
After the formal dinner, I chanced to have a conversation with the Queen. I began, respectfully, “I suspect, Ma’am, that you have visited most of the countries in the Commonwealth.” She fixed me with a look, and said, “No. All of them.” That put me in my place. However, it was said with a knowing smile which quickly put me at ease—so much so that I was probably the last to leave that evening.
We have heard much today about the Queen’s contribution to these isles, but we should not forget the enormous contribution she made to the Commonwealth, keeping it together and relevant to Britain when others would have had it otherwise. The Queen will be remembered not only for her service to this country but for the service she gave to the Commonwealth.