When British Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils and her husband Neil Naughton hosted a well-attended party for Queen Elizabeth II’s 96th birthday on Sept. 1, there was no inkling that it would be the last.
Filipino officials, led by Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and his immediate predecessor Teddyboy Locsin (who would later be named as Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom) and other personalities, came to celebrate the life of the longest-reigning British monarch as well as 75 years of diplomatic ties between the UK and the Philippines.
The British ambassador’s residence in North Forbes was dressed up for the occasion: a standee of the Queen greeted guests in the garden, a history wall showed milestones in her long reign, and a four-layer cake topped with a crown completed the evening’s celebration.
It seems surreal that in one week’s time, the dreaded news would come.
But the birthday party became even more significant as it was a joyful celebration rather than a somber remembrance. Beaufils, the first woman British ambassador to the Philippines, spoke about how the Queen’s birthday this year was a remarkable one.
“Her Majesty The Queen has become the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. To say this is ‘extraordinary’ is to put it mildly. The Queen has worked with no less than 14 prime ministers, and as you know, that will be 15 in just five days,” Beaufils said.
On Tuesday, the frail Queen received and appointed Liz Truss as the new British prime minister, not at Buckingham Palace but in her summer home in Balmoral Castle, where she had stayed due to her fragile health and mobility problems.
That was her last public appearance, and for many around the world, showed how the Queen fulfilled her duty to the very end. Last Thursday came the sad announcement that the Queen had died.
At the Queen’s birthday party, Beaufils said that as a diplomat for over 20 years, she had seen firsthand the Queen as the UK’s foremost diplomat. She had inspired so many, she said, with her constant and reassuring presence during times of British upheaval and transformation, her grace, kindness, determination, and dedication to public service since ascending the throne at age 25.
“No one has done more to strengthen the bonds of friendship, understanding, and respect between the UK and the rest of the world,’’ she said. “I’m therefore particularly proud to have been chosen to be her first female representative to the Philippines.”
Beaufils underscored how the bonds between the UK and the Philippines, and their peoples, have also been enduring. The two countries observed 75 years of ties last year.
“People remain at the heart of our relationship,” said Beaufils, noting that over 200,000 Filipinos live and work in the UK, with 25,000 nurses working at the National Health Service.
Last July, the Queen awarded Filipino nurse May Parsons the distinguished George Cross medal on behalf of the NHS for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parsons administered the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020.
In July 2021, on the occasion of the 75th year of UK-Philippines relations, the Queen conveyed her gratitude to the Filipino nurses for their “exceptional care and comfort to their patients.” The then heir to the British throne, and now King Charles III, at that time also expressed his “most heartfelt’’ gratitude to the Filipino health care workers whom he called “wonderfully selfless people.”
On the other hand, the UK has awarded over 500 Chevening scholarships to talented Filipinos to study in prestigious universities in the UK.
The UK, Beaufils said, is the leading European holiday destination for Filipinos. “I used to think it was because of Stonehenge or Buckingham Palace, but it may be that the designer outlet in Bicester also has something to do with it,” she quipped, noting that the UK in turn will make every Filipino feel at home with the growing number of Jollibee stores in the kingdom.
On the whole, Beaufils said the Philippines and the UK have built a “strong and modern international partnership” based on shared values and priorities for over seven decades, and that “Britain’s commitment to this is for the long term.”
It was on that happy note that the party for the extraordinary Queen ended, with Beaufils quoting British national treasure Paddington Bear’s words to the monarch during their tea for the Platinum Jubilee.
Said Beaufils: “He spoke for all of us when he said simply, ‘Thank you, Ma’am, for everything.’”
Juliet Labog-Javellana is associate publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Email [email protected]
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