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Prince Edward thanks Gibraltar for 'immense welcome' during Royal visit

Photos by Johnny Bugeja, Eyleen Gomez, Stephen Ignacio and Gabriella Peralta

Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, thanked Gibraltar for its “generous hospitality” and “immense welcome” at the end of a three-day Royal visit alongside his wife Sophie, the Countess of Wessex.

Prince Edward was addressing guests at a lunch hosted by the Gibraltar Government in Grand Battery House after the Queen’s Birthday Parade in Casemates on Thursday morning.

For three days, the Royal couple had dashed from engagement to engagement in sweltering heat under a Mediterranean sun, some formal, some less so, but all an opportunity to meet and greet people of all ages from across the community.

The couple were greeted warmly everywhere they went, but they too were generous with their time and endeared themselves to everyone they met with their openness and candour.

The protocol for all these occasions was strict, but the couple broke it repeatedly much to the delight of those they met, from Sophie putting her arm around an eight-year old boy for a birthday selfie with Royalty, to Prince Edward accepting a memento delivered in an unplanned but welcomed gesture by a guest at a formal lunch, among many other such moments.

Addressing guests at the lunch on Thursday, the Earl reflected on Gibraltar's "very long and very distinguished history" and the way the Rock had changed since the couple’s last visit in 2012.

"Oh my God, what you have achieved in those last 10 years is quite extraordinary," he said, citing changes in the landscape including new education and sporting facilities.

"You are to be congratulated on all of that."

He apologised too for the 10-year gap from the last Royal visit, but said it was a special occasion for the couple to be able to be in Gibraltar to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

"It wasn't supposed to 10 years, can I just say that,” he said.

"We have been trying to get back but it didn't quite happen."

"But we made it here eventually and what a wonderful, special occasion to be here."

The Royal couple arrived in Gibraltar straight from the jubilee celebrations in London and Prince Edward spoke with pride about how the Queen's reign had been honoured not just in the UK but around the globe.

But he added: "We both knew that when we came to Gibraltar, we would feel that in an even greater sense than we have done.”

"So thank you for that."

Praising the soldiers of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment who just a short while earlier had paraded before him in Casemates, Prince Edward acknowledged too Gibraltar’s more prominent military role.

He said the Rock was becoming "a much more strategic place once again, which is a delight to be able to see".

But as he and the Countess of Wessex had demonstrated through their words and interactions during their visit, it was about people above all.

"It's the spirit of the community here that touches us every time," he said.

He spoke, by way of example, about how Gibraltar had rallied together during the difficult two-year Covid-19 pandemic.

"You can rightly now celebrate yourselves and what you've achieved in that time and in your own history," he said.

As he wrapped up his speech, he asked guests to rise and offered a toast to "the health and happiness of the people of Gibraltar".

The couple departed from Gibraltar on a BA flight shortly after the lunch.

Earlier during the event, Chief Minister had addressed guests as they dined on the same menu that was served to the Queen at a lunch hosted by the Legislative Council and the City Council in her honour during her visit in 1954.

Mr Picardo thanked everyone involved in the organisation of the visit and underscored how Gibraltarians had welcomed the couple “with open arms”.

“The Bastion we are on, Grand Battery, originally dates from the Moorish period, having been built upon in the Spanish period and fortified further by Britain,” he said, addressing the Royal couple.

“Your Royal Highnesses are quite literally sitting on a small part of the legendary 'inviolable strength' of Gibraltar.”

“That ‘inviolable strength' was the first thing to which Her Majesty alluded in her speech after dining on these same delights here, on the Rock, all those years ago.”

“Faced with recent, unprecedented, challenges we have further demonstrated our inviolable strength in facing off each challenge with the help and support of the United Kingdom, not least in the supply of life saving Covid vaccines.”

“In fact, at certain points in the last two years the only regular scheduled international flights that remained in Europe were the BA flights to Gibraltar, and none of those turned back half way over the English Channel, by the way [a reference to the couple’s delayed arrival on Tuesday].”

“The fact is that whether it is on Covid, security or managing Brexit, Her Majesty’s Governments in London and Gibraltar have never worked more closely together than we do today.”

“That is a real reason for celebration also.”

Mr Picardo said the Earl and Countess had enjoyed and experienced the best of what Gibraltar had to offer during their time here.

“But perhaps most importantly, you have got up close and personal with thousands of our people,” he said.

“There are no other people like the Gibraltarians. They are our greatest resource.”

The guests including representatives from all areas of Gibraltarian society, from political and faith representatives to business people, community groups and charities, residential areas and NGOs. It was a true cross-section of the modern Gibraltarian.

“Because we all, from different walks, avenues and stations in life want to showcase our allegiance to the British Crown in celebrating this unprecedented Platinum Jubilee with Her Majesty,” he said.

“May I please therefore ask that Your Royal Highnesses might report to Her Majesty that the third observation she made about Gibraltar in her after dinner speech in 1954 remains as true today as it was then.”

“Yes, it's inviolable strength. Yes, its strategic significance.”

“But above all else, the undying loyalty of its people which beats as strong today - if not stronger -than it did in May 1954 when a young Queen and her husband came to visit her people and survey her Rock for herself.”

Mr Picardo concluded with a toast to the Queen.

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