We also have taken part in activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, abseiling and team building exercises. I have never done anything like this before and it has made me much more confident and able to trust and rely on other people in my team.

I am delighted to welcome you all to Banqueting House tonight for what is going to be a truly special evening and I am particularly pleased to see so many of you from the banking and hedge fund communities. My eldest son, Prince William, has been spending the past few weeks in the City and I asked him this evening if he could explain to me what hedge funds are…and even he still had some difficulty, although I'm sure he'll be able to tell me later on!

This evening we are going to be entertained by three of the most well-known and remarkable ambassadors for my Trust, Eric Clapton, Jools Holland and, of course, the inimitable Stephen Fry. I am overwhelmed that they have given up their precious time to perform for us this evening – it a rare treat indeed and my gratitude to them is boundless.

But there is someone else to whom I am profoundly grateful and that is Michael Marks. Without him, tonight simply would not have happened. He is a true friend of my Trust. Not only has he put together this evening calling on, I fear, many of his friends from the City, but he also serves on my Trust's Council and Development Board. We benefit so much from his wise counsel. People like Michael are very rare and I know just how lucky we are to have him.

I must just mention the Committee who has supported Michael – it has involved a number of investment bankers and hedge funds managers and I am extremely grateful to all of you.

It is impossible, of course, to hold an auction without an auctioneer and so I am very grateful to Lord Dalmeny for performing this role this evening. Indeed, I am indebted to all those who have contributed such a staggering and wonderful array of lots – including myself!

Finally, I would like to offer my special thanks to Bloomberg, who are great friends of my Trust and who has sponsored our dinner this evening, ensuring that every penny from tonight will go straight to our work with disadvantaged young people.

It is extraordinary to think that, since I founded my Trust in 1976, we have helped to support more than half a million young people, the population of the city of Edinburgh. Now, as we approach our 30th anniversary, we are helping one hundred additional young people every day. These are young people facing the most enormous obstacles and who too often have no one to turn to for advice. We give them hope, encouragement, training and sometimes basic financial assistance to start them off in business. The result is that they are able to achieve their goals and many go on to exceed them.

Let me give you some figures: 80,000 have been on the Team Programme: 60,000 started in Business, 3,500 started in Business this year.

None of this would be possible, of course, without the support we receive from so many friends, including a great number of individuals and organizations who have made this evening possible. The financial community, both in London and the United States of America, has been exceptionally generous over the years, not only with donations, but also with their time – for example, those who mentor the young people we start in business.

In particular, I must mention Merrill Lynch and Citigroup as two organizations to whom my Trust owes a tremendous debt of gratitude, and I am so pleased to see you both so well-represented here tonight. I am sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Michael Marks was formerly the Executive Chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe!

As I said a moment ago, we are shortly going to hear from Eric and Jools, but we have another treat in store for you this evening. Sarah Bennett is a remarkable young lady with whom my Trust has been involved for some time, and a former winner of The Prince's Trust Pride of Britain Award. Sarah's ability to overcome the sort of barriers that would defeat most of us never ceases to amaze me. I hope you find her particular story as infectious as I do when she tells us her story later – have to tell you that I am enormously proud of her. But I can also tell you, and I am sure that Sarah would agree with me, that Jools has played a very important part in her success, which shows the true extent of the support that some of our ambassadors give The Trust…

Sarah illustrates so well what my Trust is all about. But just in case you are wondering whether or not The Trust really does make a difference, I want to read a short letter from one young man whom my Trust has helped. In fact, this letter arrived only this morning.

“I am currently a serving prisoner at a Young Offenders Institute. I am due to be released in February 2006. During my sentence I have been lucky enough to take part in the Prince's Trust scheme with other trainees. We all found the course very challenging. It has surprised us that the time we have spent walking and camping has given us time to think about what caused us to come to prison in the first place. The quiet beautiful countryside has made us face up to what has happened to us and the people who are important to us and the effect our actions have on them and the victims.

We also have taken part in activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, abseiling and team building exercises. I have never done anything like this before and it has made me much more confident and able to trust and rely on other people in my team.

We would all like to take this opportunity to thank you for the award scheme that you head. We all agree the course has made us better people who can now stop and think about things before we do them…”

As we enter our 30th anniversary year, my Trust faces new challenges and, though unemployment is much lower now than when I started, for those who do not achieve at school, opportunities are more limited than ever. There are more than one million young people in the United Kingdom at present who are not in work, education or in training. Now, we may be helping one hundred of them every day, but it doesn't take much arithmetic to work out that there are so many more out there who need our help.

And this why tonight is so desperately important to our Trust. It is cleverly titled “Invest in Futures” because, while that is what many of you are doing in your jobs, it is exactly what we are trying to do too. For every Sarah Bennett, there are far too many young people quite literally without hope or help. They are not featuring on anyone's radar screen and they seem to exist in some nether world. Too often these people are dismissed in some collective noun: “youth”, “hoodies”, “drug addicts” or “thugs”. But they are not faceless and nameless. They are individuals and all I want my Trust to do is invest in their futures so that they can live lives which are fulfilling and rewarding for themselves, their families, their communities and their country. And that is what my Trust is all about.