But most of all, congratulations to this year’s winners.  It’s lovely to have you here in London, in Buckingham Palace, in a room that Queen Victoria knew so well, to celebrate the way you have crafted words so beautifully to create wonderful pieces of writing full of “truth and good feeling”.  Thank you very much, very well done.

On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen it's a huge pleasure to welcome you to Buckingham Palace today for the award ceremony of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition. 

Queen Victoria was the first British sovereign to take up residence here in 1837, and it was during her reign that this very special essay competition was founded.  She loved words, she loved reading and she loved being read to.  Her favourite authors included Charles Dickens and George Eliot and she liked “simple stories, full of truth and good feeling”. 

She was only ten when she wrote her first full-length children’s story and she encouraged her own children to read and write as much as she did – which is why I think I can safely say that she would have been thrilled to see how this unique essay competition has grown and developed over the years.

As most of you know, this is the world’s oldest international writing competition for schools and thousands of young people take part from all over the world.  This year there have been more than 12,000 entries from nearly every one of the 52 Commonwealth countries.  So I was thrilled that on my recent visit to Malaysia and Singapore I was lucky enough to be able to have some excellent discussions with some of the students who had entered it this year.

The competition is challenging, because it asks all of you who have entered to write about subjects that require serious thought – from poverty to pollution, from gender inequality to the role of the Commonwealth itself.  It is challenging, but it is exciting, too, because it gives you the chance to express yourselves through poems, stories and scripts as well as traditional essays.

Now before we hear some excerpts from these remarkable stories, I would like to say a profound thank you to the Royal Commonwealth Society for the way you have managed the competition over the past years.  I know you have exciting plans to develop it further in the future. (So if you are one of the older, more established authors here, we are looking for “Champions” to help spread the word and I think you will find the RCS will be in touch with you in due course.  As you well know; there’s no such thing as a free cup of tea . . .)

Finally, a huge thank you to the teachers and the schools who have taken part – and a special thank you to all the judges.

But most of all, congratulations to this year’s winners.  It’s lovely to have you here in London, in Buckingham Palace, in a room that Queen Victoria knew so well, to celebrate the way you have crafted words so beautifully to create wonderful pieces of writing full of “truth and good feeling”.  Thank you very much, very well done.