Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I begin by thanking you, Madame President, for the great pleasure and honour to be present at this wonderful national celebration.
My wife and I could not be more delighted to be back in Greece, which has long held the most special place in my heart. After all, Greece is the land of my grandfather; and of my father’s birth, nearly one hundred years ago, in the centenary year of Greek Independence. Later, it was in Athens that my dear grandmother, Princess Alice, during the dark years of Nazi occupation, sheltered a Jewish family – an act for which in Israel she is counted as "Righteous Among The Nations.”.
In feeling a profound connection to Greece - her landscapes, her history and her culture - I am hardly alone: there is something of her essence in us all. As the wellspring of Western civilization, Greece’s spirit runs through our societies and our democracies. Without her, our laws, our art, our way of life, would never have flourished as they have.
It was because of this, perhaps, that Lord Byron’s 1812 poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, in which he first championed the cause of Greek self-determination, struck such a chord with European audiences. The Greek struggle came to be seen, not as the concern of a foreign people, but as our common cause. As Byron’s friend, Percy Shelley, declared in the preface to his poem “Hellas”: ‘We are all Greeks’.
Thus, in the pages of history, alongside the Greek heroes of the revolution, are recorded the names of Britons, deeply moved by this spirit of Philhellenism, who joined the struggle. Together with Kolokotronis, Karaiskakis, Miaoulis, Kanaris and Bouboulina, we read of Gordon, Cochrane, Church and Codrington.
However, it was not to any one hero that Greece’s triumph was due, but to the extraordinary courage and fortitude of her people - and to what one British historian called the “divine flame lit in the soul of the Greeks”. Had it not been for the determination of the Greek people to fight on, in the face of terrible suffering, and against overwhelming odds, independence could never have been won.
On our last visit to Greece in 2018, in a speech in this very room, I told the story of the steam-powered warship Karteria, commissioned from an English shipyard by a certain Captain Hastings, to aid the Greeks in their struggle. In joining the fleet of the revolutionary Hellenic Navy, the Karteria became the first steam-powered warship ever to see combat, and played a decisive role in the war.
Karteria, of course, means Perseverance or Endurance. It was a name that was particularly apt for those times, but which, if I may say so, continues to resonate to this day - through the desperately difficult years of the economic crisis, and now through this dreadful pandemic which has disrupted so many lives and livelihoods. I have such admiration for the fortitude of the Greek people, and have been particularly touched by the remarkable resilience of her youth. It gives me special pride that my Prince’s Trust International has been able to help so many young people in Greece into work, training, or to start their own enterprises, empowering them to achieve their potential and to contribute to their country’s prosperity and strength.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we all work to rebuild our societies and our economies from this year of previously unimaginable upheaval, and to set our world on a more sustainable path, perhaps we can take some inspiration from the courage, determination and ambition of 1821. Once again, the stakes could hardly be higher. The choices we make will determine the fate not only of our nations, but of this singular planet which we all share. For my part, to support this vital endeavour, I have worked with hundreds of CEOs around the world to develop a roadmap that places people, planet and Nature at the heart of our economic transition. I have called this plan the “Terra Carta”, and I am deeply touched that Athens wishes to enact the ideas it offers.
Your Excellency - today, as in 1821, Greece can count on her friends in the United Kingdom. The ties between us are strong and vital, and make a profound difference to our shared prosperity and security. Just as our histories are closely bound together, so too are our futures. In this spirit, tomorrow, stood beside you once again, your British friends will take great pride in Dionýsios Solomós’s rousing exhortation:
Χαίρε, ω χαίρε, ελευθεριά
[Hail, O Hail Liberty].
Ζήτω η Ελλάς!
[Long live Greece].