Philip Barker

The Queen’s Baton will soon fly from Birmingham airport for Cyprus to begin a 294-day journey that ultimately will bring the baton "home".

The Relay was introduced for the 1958 Games in Cardiff, but although designed with an unmistakable Welsh flavour, it was made in Birmingham in the Jewellery Quarter, the very same district where the 2022 Baton was fashioned.

Every Queen's Baton Relay (QBR) since 2002 has also visited Birmingham.

A platinum strand runs through the 2022 incarnation in tribute to the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession in 1952.

"Everybody wants to see the Queen’s signature," Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) President Dame Louise Martin told insidethegames.

"You cannot see any message that is kept quite secret. We send to the Palace no more than three suggestions as to what Her Majesty would like to say, and she changes it herself relating to the tone."

This year’s Baton has been inspired by the influence of the Queen as a woman. Young artists and designers worked with project leader Laura Nyahuye to create it.

"It is the Queen’s Baton, so it should be feminine," Zoey Sibanda told insidethegames.

The Baton pays tribute to "the strength and fortitude of women across the Commonwealth", according to Birmingham 2022. The metals used are accessible, non-precious copper, aluminium and brass to reflect gold, silver and bronze medals.

Four years ago many were astonished when a camper van arrived at Buckingham Palace to reflect the surfer culture of the Gold Coast.

The 1958 Baton was also design in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter ©Philip Barker
The 1958 Baton was also design in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter ©Philip Barker

"I went with the Baton but not in the camper van," Dame Louise said. "We want as many hands as possible to touch it so that the Queen knows her family throughout the Commonwealth see her message."

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Relay organisers to make changes.

"It will be as normal as we can make it," Dame Louise confirmed. "We will be sending it on from country to country by courier. We cannot justify sending people with it in the world we have today."

Instead, a smaller team at each destination will take care of the Baton.

"What we are doing is working with each of the countries in turn, to understand the Government guidelines in that country," Baton Relay head Lisa Hampton said.

The original QBR in 1958 may well have been inspired by Welsh athletics coach Bernard Baldwin, who organised a goodwill relay Lawr y Cwm (Mountain to Valley) celebrating 100 years of the Welsh national anthem in 1956. Baldwin, founder of the Nos Galan New Year’s Eve race in Wales, proposed a similar event for the Games.

Cardiff’s Baton was designed by colonel Roy Crouch, Deputy Lieutenant of Glamorgan and chairman of the Medals Committee. It "embodied the Welsh dragon in bold relief and enamelled colour surrounded with engraved features of the daffodil and leek, and richly gilt".

It was made in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter at Turner and Simpson’s by silversmith Catherine Magrath.

The silver-gilt ceremonial Baton was only used for the start and end. A metal duplicate was employed from the second stage until the last. It was "exactly similar" but fitted with a lock.

The Queen was unwell, so Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, greeted Roger Bannister, Chris Chataway, and Peter Driver, gold medallists all at the 1954 Games.

The trio carried the Baton past a small crowd outside the Buckingham Palace gates.

It arrived in the Midlands early the following morning and left Stratford-upon-Avon for Leamington.

Laura Nyahuye was in charge of the design of the Birmingham 2022 Baton ©Birmingham 2022
Laura Nyahuye was in charge of the design of the Birmingham 2022 Baton ©Birmingham 2022

In Coventry, it was 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Two 16-year-old Coventry Godiva athletes, sprinter Errol Watkins and Bill Adcock - later a marathon silver medallist at the 1966 Games in Kingston - carried the Baton.

As they reached the civic buildings, Mayor Harold Winslow and Mayoress Betty Heritage joked "you’re early".

At Birmingham’s Council House, Lord Mayor Ernest Epps met runners. He passed it to Alan Nicholson, accompanied by Neil Smith and Peter Crewe.

In the West Midlands, 118 Batonbearers included 24 young offenders.

It crossed the border at Chirk, travelling day and night down the Welsh coast to Cardiff.

"The athlete carrying the message will enter the arena and run around the track to the saluting dais and hand the baton to the Duke of Edinburgh who will open it and read it to the assembled company", official instructions read.

Organisers even arranged for a "special artificer" to be on standby in case of problems releasing the message.

In what was described by the Western Mail as "one of the best kept secrets", athletics and rugby international Ken Jones "appeared to a thunderous roar of applause."

Prince Philip read the message which ended "I am greatly looking forward to being with you at the end of next week." Unfortunately, the Queen’s illness prevented her attendance. She sent a recorded message announcing that Prince Charles had been created Prince of Wales.

The QBR did not become a regular event until 1966, but in 1962, Adelaide Harriers carried a goodwill baton to Perth Lord Mayor Sir Harry Howard.

The Manchester 2002 Relay was the first planned on a much larger scale. Coinciding with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, it toured over 20 Commonwealth countries, before 50 days on British soil.

A camper van was given prominence when the Gold Coast 2018 Baton Relay began at Buckingham Palace ©Getty Images
A camper van was given prominence when the Gold Coast 2018 Baton Relay began at Buckingham Palace ©Getty Images

The Queen briefly received it from athlete and charity campaigner Jane Tomlinson at Temple Newsam Park in Leeds, the only time she had seen it in transit.

On the 43rd day of 50, it arrived in Birmingham.

One-hundred-and-six-year-old Doris Gossage was one of many who carried it when it reached Birmingham.

At Centenary Square, BBC local radio broadcaster Ed Doolan was greeted by a 25-piece acapella choir.

All runners were given uniforms in predominantly purple, because the Cadbury sponsored the Relay.

Olympic and double Commonwealth heptathlon champion Denise Lewis, a member of Birchfield Harriers, carried the Baton into the chocolate factory at Bournville. She had recently become a mother and was not ready to compete in Manchester.

"I have really enjoyed myself and I think the Relay has been really successful in highlighting the Commonwealth Games," Lewis said.

Fittingly, her own mother Jo also took part.

A week later, Denise reappeared at the Opening Ceremony in Manchester. Aerialist Lindsey Butcher floated above the stage from a balloon with the Baton. Lewis received it and handed it on to a group of Commonwealth champions before David Beckham and Kirsty Howard presented it to the Queen.

Four years later, Birmingham was a much earlier staging post for an even longer journey.

Olympic 4x100 metres gold medallist Mark Lewis-Francis, another Birchfield Harrier, insisted: "It's all about the kids because they are the future and that's where we should be nourishing the sport."

Mimi Cesar was joined by schoolchildren in carrying the Baton in Birmingham before Glasgow 2014 ©Getty Images
Mimi Cesar was joined by schoolchildren in carrying the Baton in Birmingham before Glasgow 2014 ©Getty Images

At Melbourne 2006, Lewis-Francis was disqualified in the 100m semi final and his English 4x100m relay squad did not qualify. Redemption came with silver and gold at Delhi 2010.

The ornate Delhi Baton also travelled by way of Birmingham. Gymnasts Becky Downie and Emily Goring displayed it at the new Gymnastics and Martial Arts Centre next door to the Alexander Stadium. Other Bearers included heptathlete Louise Hazel, 400m runner Jordan McGrath and high jumper Tom Parsons.

Children at Hamstead Hall school held the Baton as it turned red and white to match the England flags they waved. GPS technology also enabled it to receive messages from around the world.

For Glasgow 2014, the Baton was inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Birmingham’s leg began in Sunset Park with Pritesh Pattni, founder of a local charity supporting children through sport.

Triple jumper Laura Samuel, destined for silver in Glasgow, ran with cheering schoolchildren in Holder’s Park in Moseley.

At Ward End Park, more schoolchildren from Highfield Junior and Infant schools joined rhythmic gymnast Mimi Cesar.

Later, 1994 backstroke gold medallist Adam Ruckwood carried the Baton into Victoria Square.

When the Relay passed in 2017, Birmingham was still bidding for the 2022 Games.

"It is fitting that we can celebrate with this Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay’s visit so let’s show how much we want the Commonwealth Games in our hometown by coming out and supporting it," Birmingham bid leader Ian Ward said.

The Birmingham 2022 Baton will change shade as it is exposed to air, and is bedazzled with LED lights which will also change colour ©Birmingham 2022
The Birmingham 2022 Baton will change shade as it is exposed to air, and is bedazzled with LED lights which will also change colour ©Birmingham 2022

A gospel choir gave local footballer Daniel Chisanga and netballer Monique Hume Woode a musical send-off in Lozells.

At Alexander Stadium, the men’s 2017 men’s 4x100m relay world champions made their lap of honour with the Baton.

At Brindley Place, it was cyclist Helen Scott, pilot to Sophie Thornhill as they won tandem gold at Glasgow 2014.

"It’s amazing to have the Baton in the country," Scott said. "I have been following its progress around England and I am really proud that it is in Birmingham, my home town."

Sixteen young cricketers from Handsworth greeted it during the Test match at Edgbaston, a 2022 venue for women’s cricket.

Gymnasts Kristian Thomas and Cesar posed with the Baton at the Bullring.

Cesar also inspected the Birmingham 2022 design close up.

"It is my favourite of the three but I am from Birmingham so I am biased," Cesar told insidethegames.

By the time it returns to Birmingham for the Opening Ceremony on July 28 next year, the Baton is expected to look a little different as its copper patina changes appearance after exposure to the air.