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Queen's 'steadfast devotion' hailed by Kofi Annan at Commonwealth Day service

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has marked the Queen's 90th year by praising her "steadfast devotion" to the Commonwealth.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Day service held at Westminster Abbey he paid tribute to the monarch who, in her annual address to the family of nations, called on the Commonwealth's citizens to support those in need.

Mr Annan said the Commonwealth not only strengthened links between member countries, it offered practical support from election monitoring to promoting security co-operation.

He added: "Today the Commonwealth stands as a confident, modern, multi-cultural and proudly inclusive organisation."

The former UN secretary-general went on to say about the Queen's involvement with the institution she heads, that nobody "has made a greater contribution to its achievements than Your Majesty.

"You have shown an unwavering and steadfast devotion to this grand project. We are greatly honoured and deeply grateful for your extraordinary commitment."

The Westminster Abbey service was the largest annual inter-faith gathering in the UK and hymns were sang, and prayers read in honour of the Commonwealth.

Among the guests were David Cameron, former prime minister John Major, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and a host of dignitaries.

Speaking about the family of nations' 2016 theme - An Inclusive Commonwealth - Mr Annan told the congregation: "This puts the people at its heart, at its centre and declares that plurality and diversity are the greatest strengths.

"It also means that we must constantly strive to ensure that no child, woman or a man is excluded or left behind.

"These are enduring principles which not only bind us together as citizens of the Commonwealth but are absolutely critical for our collective ambitions for our world.

"It has never been more important for the Commonwealth to stress the bonds of human compassion and solidarity that unite us across the divides of race and religion, gender and geography."

During the service Ellie Goulding, who sang at William and Kate's wedding reception, gave a pared down performance of the Sting hit Fields Of Gold.

In a change to previous Commonwealth Day services the Queen's message was not broadcast to the guests but was printed in the official order of service.

The Queen wrote that helping those less fortunate would be a way of embodying this year's Commonwealth theme of inclusivity: "Today, and in the year ahead, the theme An Inclusive Commonwealth is an inspiration for us all.

"Let us give it practical effect by supporting those in need and those who feel excluded in all walks of life. By doing so, we will continue to build a truly representative Commonwealth community."

Before leaving, the Queen received an early birthday present from the choristers of Westminster Abbey, a framed picture of Choir Boy - the Queen's first winning racehorse, which won the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot on June 17 1953.

The choristers felt they could not let the Queen's 90th birthday pass without a special gift from them.

The boys, aged eight to 13 years old, meet her each year after the service as she leaves through the Abbey's Great West Door.

Six of the younger boys will be singing for the Queen for the first time during the service - which was broadcast live on BBC One - in celebration of Her Majesty's commitment to the Commonwealth in the year of her 90th birthday.

William, Kate and Harry also chatted to the choristers before making their way to a private reception with members of the congregation.

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