Singer and entrepreneur Rihanna said she was “proud to be a Bajan” as she was awarded a national honour from her homeland Barbados on the day it became a republic.
Rihanna, who grew up in the island nation, witnessed the historic ceremony that broke Barbados’s centuries-old ties with the British monarchy and swore in its first president Dame Sandra Mason, ending the Queen’s role as head of state.
Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley surprised the invited guests when she said her government had recommended the celebrity be made a member of the Order of National Heroes.
During the ceremony staged just after midnight, local time, applause rang out in National Heroes Square in the capital Bridgetown, when Dame Sandra was sworn in by chief justice Sir Marston Gibson and announced as “Her Excellency Dame Sandra Prunella Mason President of Barbados”.
Rihanna, who flew back to Barbados for the event, touched her heart as she was praised by Ms Mottley, who quoted the singer’s own lyrics as she said: “May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation by your words, by your actions and to do credit wherever you shall go.”
Later in the day, Rihanna received her honour and said it was a moment “that I will never, ever forget” and she paid tribute to her fellow Bajans.
Following the presentation, the singer told guests: “You all are the true heroes of Barbados and I take you all with me wherever I go – I’m so proud to be a Bajan. I’m going to be a Bajan to the day I die.
“This is still the only place I’ve ever called home – I love Barbados, I love you guys and I pray that the youth continue to push Barbados forward.”
Rihanna added: “I have travelled the world and received several awards and recognitions but nothing, nothing compares to being recognised in the soil that you grew in.”
Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1988, she moved to the US in 2005 to pursue a career in music.
The celebrity went on to have a string of global hits with Umbrella, SOS and Diamonds before reinventing herself as a business mastermind, now estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Prince of Wales represented the UK at the televised open-air ceremony that saw Barbados swear in its new president, and in a speech he was warmly acknowledged by the guests when he told the new republic: “I shall always consider myself a friend of Barbados.”
Charles’s speech was a positive message, as if written for a close acquittance, harbouring no regret at the decision taken by the Barbadian leaders, and it also acknowledged Britain’s role in the “appalling atrocity of slavery”.
He listed the ways he would “remain deeply committed to this very special country”, highlighting the ongoing efforts of his Prince’s Trust International charity in supporting Barbados’s young people and his work with their government on issues like climate change.
During the ceremony, the culture, history and achievements of Barbados were celebrated with music, dance and spoken word, and a number of poets and activists criticised the colonial past of the island nation and called for it to embrace the opportunities of becoming a republic.
Poet Cyndi Celeste summed up the mood when she said: “Today, after successive governments have tried and failed to rekindle the flame, we finally raised the flag of a nation no longer clinging to colonial coat tails for its identity.
“And maybe, we’ve been so focused on searching for the problems that we do not recognise the opportunities we have been given … shedding the vestiges of a monarchy means we get to denounce the moniker of ‘little England’ and vest the powers of the state in every Barbadian citizen.”
The symbolic ceremony staged on November 30, the 55th anniversary of Barbados’s independence form Britain, was an event of two halves with Charles receiving a royal salute from a guard of honour as the Queen’s standard flew from a flagpole.
Then later, after midnight, when the new president was sworn in she took the salute from the service personnel under her presidential standard which had replaced the royal flag.
At one point during the ceremony the prince appeared to close his eyes momentarily as his head slowly moved forward before glancing down at an official programme.
The event was staged in the early hours of the morning and followed a late-night arrival into Barbados for the heir to the throne on Sunday.
President Mason gave her first speech as head of state and said: “For decades we have had discourse and debate about the transition of Barbados to a republic.
“Today debate and discourse have become action.
“Today we set our compass to a new direction girded by the successes of the last 55 years, buoyed by the confidence garnered from our triumphs and accomplishment … ”
She went on to say: “In the republic of Barbados we must see ourselves as thought leaders and change agents, actively engaged in the difficult business of nation-building.”