An overseas visit, engagements focused on improving global relations and a focus on interfaith dialogue. All were part of the Duke of Gloucester’s 2020 diary, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, yet the work of this discreet royal and his equally low key wife often go unnoticed. Yet in a year when the Royal Family have faced ongoing challenges, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester have remained a constant in the calendar of regal duty.
The year began with a series of audiences and engagements in support of some of the many organisations with which the couple are involved including the BR Class 8 Steam Locomotive Trust, the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and Lepra. Military matters also played a part with the Duke of Gloucester holding meetings in his role as Honorary Air Marshal of the Royal Air Force and in his capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The Duchess of Gloucester attended presentations by the Army Families Federation, of which she is patron.
February began with engagements for the Duke focused on international relations. He met the Ambassador of Japan just days before heading off to Kenya for a two day visit. It’s perhaps indicative of the changing nature of royal roles that this important trip was barely noticed at the time. The Duke was at an engagement at Buckingham Palace within hours of arriving back in the UK. Prince Richard’s other duties in February included engagements for the British Mexican Society and a host of events in Cambridgeshire including a visit to the Faizen e Madina Mosque in Peterbourgh.
The Duchess of Gloucester showed her support for two organisations close to her heart, the Lawn Tennis Association and Turn2Us and made a visit to the Princess Helena College in Preston, Hertfordshire to mark its bicentenary. However, the threat of coronavirus meant a highly anticipated meeting with Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands had to be cancelled.
The pandemic closed down the Gloucesters’ diary for several weeks. Both are in their 70s and in the age group most at risk from coronavirus. However, soon after lockdown began, both started a round of meetings by videolink and telephone that would continue throughout the year.
April saw a focus by the Duke on the Guild of the Royal Hospital of St. Bartholomew and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem while the Duchess held phone meetings with the Children’s Society and Turn2Us. In May, Prince Richard was involved with patronages including Cancer Research UK, Scottish Veteran Residences, the Almshouse Association, the Grange Centre for People with Disabilities and the University of Worcester. The Duchess held phone and video meetings with Hope for Youth Northern Ireland, Cerebral Palsy Scotland and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
In fact, as the pattern of lockdown became normality, the Court Circular showed a meeting or audience for the couple virtually every day. The Duchess of Gloucester also made a very personal tribute in early May 2020 when she spoke to the Rector of St. Katharine’s, the Danish Church in London to mark the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Denmark, the country of her birth. The couple also sent a poignant letter of apology to the people of the Channel Islands after being forced to cancel a planned visit marking the 75th anniversary of their liberation.
Military engagements dominated the Gloucester diary in June with the Duke holding telephone and video meetings with The Royal Anglian Regiment (he is their Colonel-in-Chief), the 6th Battalion The Rifles (he is their Royal Colonel) and the Royal Air Force Odiham (he is their Honorary Air Commodore). The Duchess spoke to St. John Ambulance Cymru of which she is Commandant-in-Chief. The summer months also provided opportunities to support other patronages including the Black Country Living Museum and the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Association as well as the organisation, Music in Hospitals and Care.
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were able, briefly, to return to face to face engagements in the early autumn. October saw Prince Richard re-open the restored Northumberland House Arch in east London and visit the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The Duke and Duchess paid a joint visit to the British Museum in London to show their support as it continued to welcome back guests following the forced closure of lockdown.
The royal couple were forced to miss commemorations at the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day following medical advice to take careful precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continued. The winter months saw more phone and video meetings with the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, the Somme Association and Asthma UK all receiving royal backing.
In some ways, lockdown did little to alter the role of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. They regularly carry out a wide range of engagements with little fanfare and their duties are often overlooked as the spotlight falls on younger members of the Royal Family. They showed throughout 2020 that the challenges of the pandemic would do nothing to stop their devotion to duty. This year, as in many past, the Gloucesters have been a discreet but vital part of the royal machine.