Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s a huge pleasure to welcome you to Buckingham Palace today. Queen Victoria, my husband’s great-great-great-grandmother, was the first British sovereign to take up residence here in 1837, and, of course, it was Queen Victoria who was on the throne when this special essay competition began back in 1883.
And I have a more modest family connection with the palace, too, because my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Cubitt, was the master builder responsible for building the part of the palace in which we are now standing.
“Connection” is the theme of this year’s essay competition. “Only connect” said the great novelist E M Forster at the beginning of Howard’s End. It is the Commonwealth that connects us all and I am delighted to report that this year there have been more than 11,300 entries to the competition from 55 countries and states. I am particularly happy that since I launched the 2019 competition in Ghana, the number of entries from there has more than doubled to over a thousand.
I am delighted to be helping to spread the word, and I am even more delighted that so many young people from across the Commonwealth are rising to the challenge of writing the word! And the competition is challenging because it asks the young people who take part to write about subjects that require serious thought. The winning entries this year, for example, have addressed issues of gender equality, the environment and cultural heritage, and more besides. It’s challenging, but it is exciting, too, because it gives those who enter the opportunity to contribute poems, stories and scripts as well as traditional essays. And, believe it or not, I am already thinking about next year – I will launch next year’s Competition in New Zealand in a few weeks’ time.
So: a huge thank you to the teachers and the schools who have taken part – and a special thank you to all the judges. Each of the many entries was read by a volunteer judge based in a Commonwealth country.
This year’s Final Panel Judges are experts in the creative industries, including directors, educators, poets and novelists, and I’m particularly pleased that several of them are here with us today. We hope some others may wish to join the panel for 2020!
Finally, a profound thank you to the Royal Commonwealth Society for the way you have managed the competition over the years – and congratulations on the “connections” you have established. The Association of Commonwealth Universities is sponsoring Winners Week this year, and the partnerships with Book Aid International and World-reader continue to flourish and help us reach a wider range of young people.
“Only connect.” That’s what the Commonwealth and this competition are all about. E M Forster – who was born 140 years ago and who, as both a Companion of Honour and a member of the Order of Merit, visited these rooms on a number of occasions – also famously said: “How can I tell what I think, till I see what I say?”
Well, now it’s time for us to discover something of what today’s young people think by hearing what they have to say. Congratulations to all of you. Keep writing. Keep connecting and very well done. Thank you.