Ladies and…more ladies. It is such a great pleasure to be here with you for today's Women of the Year Lunch. I think last attended this lunch in 2002 – and I rather hope that it won't be another 15 years before I am back here again!
Now, "Women of the Year" was founded in 1955, and I am afraid to say that I am probably one of the few women here who can actually remember that date. I can assure you that, in those distant days, it was almost unheard of for women's achievements to be recognised, let alone celebrated. But The Marchioness of Lothian was determined to do so, by bringing together a cross-section of working women who had distinguished themselves in their careers or their communities. The principle of her "Women of the Year" lunches was to enable new friendships to be forged, to found networks and to increase understanding of the countless struggles that women face.
Those principles remain just as relevant today as in 1955. In these turbulent times in which we live, I believe that it is more important than ever for women of all ages and from all walks of life to unite. As the Victorian writer Matthew Arnold observed, "If there ever comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never known". I think we can see, from those of you gathered here today, an insight into what can be achieved by women who work together to uphold their communities or their beliefs. You all represent, not only yourselves and your own achievements, but also the millions of remarkable women who make a difference every day. I salute you all – for your courage, selflessness and dedication.
And now, Ladies, I understand that Lady Lothian said that two of the criteria for being a "Woman of the Year" were unselfishness and usefulness. And so let me be both unselfish and useful by stopping now so that we can enjoy a very good lunch.