Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a huge pleasure for me to be here tonight for the first time in such august company, to share the excitement of this evening. The annual announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is THE highlight of the literary calendar. And as a passionate reader myself, I’m delighted to be here.
Now in its 45th year, the Man Booker Prize still generates the same heady excitement. That’s because each year, a different panel of judges will discuss, debate and, dare I say it, argue, the various merits of a veritable mountain of wonderful books. I know that the Chairman of Judges, Robert Macfarlane, has some experience of mountain climbing. And I only hope that this particular armchair ascent is every bit as thrilling and exhilarating as the real thing.
How you all agree on one winner, I don’t know, given the universal excellence of the shortlist. But we, the 'common readers', long to know the victor, because it either gives us the chance to discover a new writer. Or an opportunity to celebrate the work of someone more established.
Now we may disagree with the choice of winner. That is the nature of any judged competition. But the whole point of this prize is not just to reward the masters of well-honed prose; but to celebrate the astonishing, and intoxicating, breadth, depth and beauty of the written word.
I was lucky enough to have a father who loved books, and who passed that love of reading on to me. And I get as much pleasure reading to my grandchildren as I do getting lost in my own favourite writers. The power of great literature is immense, a key to other kingdoms, an escape from the dull and mundane. And many will discover this great and lifelong pleasure thanks to the Man Booker Prize.
If I may, I should also like to thank the Booker Prize Foundation and the Man Group for their wider work in promoting literacy. Earlier this year, as Patron of the National Literacy Trust, I visited the UK's first 'Literacy Action Hub' in Middlesbrough an area which is bearing the brunt of the economic decline. This ground-breaking project is addressing some of the worst literacy problems in the country by bringing people together from all parts of the community including local government, businesses and charities to create a major campaign to 'get Middlesbrough reading'. The project has already had a huge impact and its success would not have been possible without vital seed-funding from the Booker Prize Foundation.
But now I mustn't keep you any longer from hearing more about these six outstanding authors who have reached this year's shortlist. Huge congratulations to you all, and the very best of British luck!