Ladies and Gentlemen, I couldn't be more delighted to join you here this evening, particularly as Vice Patron of the British Council, which incidentally, to my horror I discovered I've done for 37years. I am delighted to be able to join you this evening to celebrate their 70th Anniversary in Zagreb, which is a wonderful record of dedication over all those years.

There is no doubt in my mind that the work of the council, in helping to create shared knowledge and understanding between the people of the United Kingdom and the wider world, is an absolutely essential part of our relationships with other countries. So often, when I am travelling in different parts of the world, I meet people who have a particular fondness or affection for Britain that can be traced back to the British Council.  They may have studied in the U.K. with the help of the council, or learnt English at a council centre in their home country or been involved in one of the council's cultural or development programmes. So many speak with immense appreciation about everything the British Council has done for them at one point or another.

I have been much impressed by the breadth of the British Council's work in Croatia and, for instance, was particularly interested to hear about the programme that assists long-term unemployed women to pursue careers in the tourism industry, by developing their English language and customer service skills. And this evening I have met some of those involved with the Design for Inclusion exhibition, which uses a design-led process to help transform organisations run by, employing or educating groups of people who often come from a disadvantaged background. I was so impressed to see the way in which their ideas, drawings and designs have been turned into the most beautiful objects of all kinds, which I think is a great art to be able to do and something which is so impressive here in Croatia.

I know, too, that the council is helping to celebrate an important event this year – and that is the 400th anniversary since the death of William Shakespeare. As the President of the Royal Shakespeare Company for the last 25 years, I couldn't be more delighted. Nor could I be more delighted that yesterday in the National Theatre we saw some performers, younger and older, performing some Shakespeare and it is truly remarkable how his work is so universal. It is remarkable too how people are able to translate his work into, for instance, Croatian and the appeal is still there after all these hundreds of years. So I may just congratulate the council on all they have achieved over these seven decades, giving opportunities to young Croatians and helping to forge so many friendships between Croatia and Britain. So ladies and gentlemen may the next 70 years be just as fruitful. As President of the Royal Shakespeare Company, I can't tell you how impressed I was by the acting!