Ladies and gentlemen I don’t really know where to begin to thank you all for such a wonderful birthday treat and particularly if I may say so for my present. I’ve been confidently led to expect at least 60 presents from my darling wife on this occasion by those in the know but unfortunately I only seem to have ended up with one. This will be very much a consolation present if I may say so.
But I can’t tell you what today means to me and in particular the fact that it was possible to put together 60 mass harps, I’m afraid to say something I’ve been longing to see for years, and so this was a wonderful opportunity. To see how many people are playing the harp or studying the harp is really enormously encouraging and I have nothing but the greatest pride in the fact that I have such a special harpist who I hope, as a result of occupying this position helps to raise the profile of the harp and Welsh music and culture all over the world.
I also just want to pay an enormous tribute to the Philharmonia Orchestra of whom I have been Patron for the last 28 years. Last night they performed brilliantly at Buckingham Palace and I don’t know if they had any time to get home, get to sleep before they had to get up again and perform once more. Their incredible contribution today could not be more appreciated. I suspect playing the Ride of the Valkyries" was a "three line whip" for the orchestra. They must have drawn out every single horn player left in London.
I am so grateful to Owain Arwel Hughes as well for his incredible willingness to spend so much time and effort on all this, to go round all the schools and to produce such an incredible chorus, if I may say so, of all the children. I hope it hasn’t done something terrible to your half term or something like that. (To the children) I was hugely impressed, thank you very much indeed.
I am so grateful also for all the 60 contributors who have helped to put this book together, which again is an enormous treat and I hope will give huge pleasure to children of all ages as a result of your wonderful generosity.
Of course you see none of these things could ever be possible without all those who have made it such a very special celebration. Countess Ceschina who has been absolutely unique really in terms of what she has done all over the world to help music and we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. Also, Pierre Rolin who has made so much possible, and of course The Royal Opera House without whose generosity we would not have been able to have this remarkable place today.
I also want to congratulate Patrick Hawes more than I can possibly say for composing ‘Goddess of the Woods’ for this particular event, and I have a feeling I was told that you were partly inspired by a visit to my garden at Highgrove and I must say that I was very moved indeed by this piece of music which I shall look forward to hearing, I hope, a recording which I believe has been made today. We must also thank the Victor Salvi Foundation for commissioning his piece of music and for helping to make this great ensemble of harps possible.
I also wanted to thank Classic FM which has been so wonderful in terms of encouraging and helping with everything we do with Children and the Arts. Their support has been absolutely critical in all this and I cannot stress that more strongly.
I also just want to say before I finish that I am so pleased that Children and the Arts, which I started some years ago, has already brought in and involved large numbers of young people, schools and others. I wish we could cover many, many more because it seems to me that it’s of absolute crucial importance for when we’re young to have this kind of experience of the best of our artistic and cultural heritage.
It is enormously inspiring. I must tell all of you that it was my Grandmother who took me to the Bolshoi Ballet here, when I was seven years old, probably about the same age as all of you. I’ve never forgotten being taken there at that age. I was electrified by all these incredible Russian dancers who leapt in the air and cracked whips. I’ve always had a love for the opera ever since.
I remember being taken aged eight to The Old Vic and even, can you believe it, to a wonderful thing they used to have when I was young called The Crazy Gang which was one of the best things there has ever been.
These performances have inspired my love of the theatre, music, ballet, opera which are absolutely an essential part of life. I’m hoping that quite a lot of you, as a result of seeing and experiencing some of these things, might even become inspired yourself to take up an acting career or play music.
There’s so much talent in this country, that’s the wonderful thing. But you have to allow it to come out and it has to come out through that initial inspiration. I’m hugely grateful to all those organisations, the Philharmonia Orchestra and all the other orchestras, the Royal Shakespeare Company who spend so much time and effort on the education and inspiration of children.
Once again, it has been the best possible birthday I could ever, ever have possibly imagined and I am so touched by all the effort that has gone into it. Thank you all so much.