Ladies and Gentleman,
On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, and as the proud Vice-Patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society, I’m delighted to welcome you to Buckingham Palace today. It’s a special place for a special celebration and it has an interesting history.
Buckingham Palace gets its name from the Duke of Buckingham who had it built as his London residence at the very beginning of the eighteenth century. It became a royal palace in 1761 when King George III bought it as a home for his wife, Queen Charlotte. Fourteen of her fifteen children were born here.
Queen Charlotte was a remarkable lady – the longest serving Queen Consort, a patron of the arts, a lover of music and botany – but, for me, what marks her out is her interest in education for women. She was determined that her daughters have as good an education as her sons – which was very unusual for that time.
I’m sure that Queen Charlotte would have been delighted to welcome you all to her home and to see that today, 250 years later, at least as many girls as boys take part in the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition.
As you probably know, the Competition began in the reign of Queen Charlotte’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, who came to live here in 1837, and it is the oldest international writing competition in the world. This year there have been more than 12,000 entries from nearly every one of the 53 Commonwealth countries. We have winners from Pakistan, Singapore and Canada. I have recently returned from a memorable, if very hot, trip to Africa and when I was in Ghana I launched next year’s competition there.
Every year we want to see the competition grow and we have been working to increase access to it for an ever-wider range of young people through partnerships with organisations such as BookAid International, Worldreader, and the National Literacy Trust.
This year, young literacy advocates in Fiji, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Malawi and Ghana have become Essay Competition representatives – working to promote it in their local communities. Their contribution has resulted in many more entries from these areas. For 2019, we want to hear all young people, regardless of age, education or region. All stories and voices are very important.
I began by talking about the past – the history of Buckingham Palace – but the winning essays this year have all been about the future. The theme of the 2018 competition was ‘Towards a Common Future’ – and we have had a wide range of entries, from the wonderfully creative – people giving their ‘recipe for a better future’ – to the very practical: people saying what they would do if they could be ‘head of government for a day’.
For the first time our panel of judges included experts in the creative writing field, such as authors, journalists, scriptwriters, poets and publishers - many of whom are here with us today. We are so grateful for your support. Thank you, too, to the distinguished authors who have given copies of their books as extra prizes for our winners.
As ever, we are grateful to the Royal Commonwealth Society who are celebrating their 150th birthday this year and have managed the competition so well over so many years.
Finally, a huge thank you to the teachers and the schools who have taken part.
But most of all, congratulations to this year’s winners. It’s lovely to have you here in London to celebrate your special success at Buckingham Palace, the home of Queen Charlotte and her granddaughter, Queen Victoria. Well done to all of you. Never mind the past. Meeting you, I rather think the future is in good hands.