Prince Charles opens Commonwealth summit

President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Prince Charles during the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2013 Opening Ceremony. Picture: Getty
President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Prince Charles during the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2013 Opening Ceremony. Picture: Getty
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CUTTING a dash in a black tie, with his bejewelled wife by his side, Prince Charles made royal history tonight as he represented the Queen for the first time at a banquet for the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Sri Lanka.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, wore a glittering tiara that once belonged to the Queen Mother – lent to her by the Queen to mark the historic moment that the Prince of Wales first hosted the summit in her honour.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles. Picture: Getty

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles. Picture: Getty

The prince, who celebrated his 65th birthday on Thursday, was dressed in black tie with miniature medals including his Garter Star and Order of Merit neck order.

As well as turning heads with her tiara, Camilla wore an eye-catching turquoise evening gown with a beaded neckline and sleeves. She was wearing the Queen’s Family Order, the highest personal order of merit, pinned to her shoulder.

The order contains an enamelled portrait of the Queen as a young woman, surrounded by diamonds, and was given to Camilla on her 60th birthday.

The royal couple were hosting a banquet for the Commonwealth heads at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in the Sri Lankan capital.

Dancers welcome the couple before the dinner. Picture: Getty

Dancers welcome the couple before the dinner. Picture: Getty

The prince and his wife were welcomed by group of dancers before attending a pre-dinner reception.

Thirty volunteers, who were showcasing Sri Lankan fashion through the ages, lined the walk from the hotel lobby to the banqueting room, which accommodated the pre-drinks reception and the dinner.

During the banquet, two short toasts were made by heads of government, and a return speech was made by the Prince of Wales.

The menu, which was organised by Buckingham Palace staff, consisted of a terrine of grilled vegetables and a sauce vierge to start, followed by a main course of pan-fried modha (a local fish) with nuwara eliya organic vegetables and a sauce Holland-aise.

For dessert, there was mango and chocolate parfait with a strawberry macaroon.

Wines included a patriotic Camel Valley Brut, Seyval Blanc 2010, from Cornwall.

The tables were laid with the 57 Commonwealth silver toasting goblets, part of a matching set provided by each member state of the family of nations.

The goblets were engraved with the respective governments’ national armorial bearings and are used for any occasion where a formal toast is made.

Visible behind the couple was the Commonwealth mace, a gift from the Royal Anniversary Trust to the Queen on the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

Generally, the mace is only used in the presence of the sovereign or an immediate member of the Royal Family representing her as Head of the Commonwealth, as Charles was today.

During the banquet, the Prince of Wales sat next to the president of Sri Lanka with the Sultan of Brunei, the president of Tanzania, the president of Cyprus, the prime minister of Samoa and the prime minister of St Christopher and Nevis also at his table.

The Duchess of Cornwall rubbed shoulders with the Australian prime minister, the president of Sri Lanka’s wife and the prime minister of Swaziland.

Prime Minister David Cameron sat with the prime minister of Pakistan and president Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

Hours before the banquet, Charles formally opened the meeting on behalf of the Queen while his wife attended an event at Colombo’s public library to highlight the country’s literacy rates.

She also presented a prize to Shenuka Corea, overall winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Essay Competition, which has been run by the Royal Commonwealth Society since 1883.

The gathering of national leaders came after the couple had been touring India for the last nine days.

It is the first time the Prince of Wales has hosted the meeting as he continues to take on more roles usually performed by the Queen.

On Saturday, the prince is expected to visit the Temple of the Tooth, the British Garrison Cemetery and the historic Peredeniya Botanical Gardens, before moving on to Nuwara Eliya, where he will see the Labookellie tea estate and a school for children with disabilities.

The duchess will visit a number of charities in Colombo, such as a Women In Need crisis centre which offers legal assistance, protection and counselling for women – and their children – who are victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.

The prince last visited Sri Lanka in 2005 and previously in 1998. It is the duchess’s first official trip there.

She and the prince attended the official banquet of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda, in 2007.