Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to be here with all of you this evening –and in particular to be able to join you, Mr. President and your wife – to celebrate the British Cypriot community, and the indispensable contribution that people of Cypriot descent make to the life of this country and across the Commonwealth. I could hardly be more delighted that so many of you have come to Buckingham Palace this evening to demonstrate our shared pride in everything that binds us together – British and Cypriot, of whatever heritage.
Since Aphrodite first stepped from the foam onto Cyprus’s shores, your remarkable island has captured the imagination of the world. Anchoring the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus’s position at the crossroads of three continents has made her a crossroads of civilisations too, and her influence has been felt far and wide.
In this country, we have long felt that influence particularly keenly. Shakespeare set Othello there, of course; and generation after generation of British travellers has been drawn to her shores. Over the years, the tides of history brought us ever closer together, and in the years following the First World War, during which Cypriot servicemen fought with great courage, more and more Cypriots came to these shores as well. Their numbers increased after the Second World War, during which, once again, Cypriot men and women stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us in defence of our shared values.
Cypriots arriving in the United Kingdom settled first in the Boroughs of North London – in Camden, Haringey, Hackney and Islington; and later spread further afield, to form vibrant communities in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff and elsewhere. I am told that some early British Cypriot communities were established in seaside towns such as Southend and Margate, which I can only imagine were the closest thing they could find in this country to Ayia Napa!
Wherever they settled, these communities thrived, and over the years they have made the most tremendous difference to our society, to our economy and to our culture. Whether entrepreneurs such as Theo Paphitis, Touker Suleyman or Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou; whether in academia, medicine, sport or journalism; whether in the arts, as with Tracey Emin, or in the entertainment industry where so many British Cypriots have made their name, most famously, of course, a certain Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (George Michael).
But, of course, for every British Cypriot who has reached the top of their profession, there are countless others who remain unsung, but whose characteristic hard work and determination have made an indispensable contribution to the life of this country.
Today over 300,000 Cypriots of all ethnic and religious backgrounds work, study and live in the United Kingdom. This remarkable number, when added to the more than a million British holidaymakers who travel to, and fall in love with, Cyprus each year, has established a remarkable series of bonds between our countries and our people.
Indeed, this may go some way to explaining why, in this country, we are now consuming record quantities of Halloumi cheese! I am told, Ladies and Gentlemen, that when last Summer demand for this rather delicious Cypriot export temporarily outstripped supply, the shortage in this country was considered to be nothing short of a national crisis!
Meanwhile, on the world stage, Cyprus continues to demonstrate impressive leadership – in the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United Nations and, in particular, as a voice for Small Island States. Indeed, I am often reminded by the High Commissioner of Cyprus that we need to start thinking of ‘Small Island States’ as ‘Big Ocean States’, and I do think he has a point. The leadership of Cyprus on issues like the blue economy, aquaculture and the Commonwealth Blue Charter has made a vital difference in inspiring practical action not only at the government level, but also among businesses, academic institutions and civil society.
And here, I did just want to pay special tribute to President Anastasiade’s leadership on so many of these global challenges which affect us all - as one people, sharing one planet and one future. I have had the very great pleasure of getting to know you, Mr. President, over these past years and I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for you – and, if I may say so, for your apparent ability to survive – indeed to thrive – on almost no sleep at all!
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me just say once again how much joy it gives me to see all of you here at Buckingham Palace. It was important to me that we should find this opportunity to celebrate your community, in its broadest sense, and to express, however inadequately, the gratitude of this country for everything that people of Cypriot heritage have brought to it over the years. For my part, I can only say how much I appreciate the tremendous difference that each and every one of you makes.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,