The Duchess of Cornwall has paid tribute to the “unity, purpose and friendship” of the Commonwealth, saying those who belong to it are “incredibly privileged”.
The duchess, delivering a speech at the prize-giving ceremony for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition (QCEC), said the 2.4 billion members of the Commonwealth “beautify life for one another”.
Camilla, vice-patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society, hosted the awards for this year’s essay prize, welcoming young winners to London for a reception at St James’s Palace.
Geri Horner, the former Spice Girl, also attended the ceremony to read one of the winning essays, while singer Alexandra Burke accompanied Cassandra Nguyen, the 2020 Junior Winner from Canada, who met the duchess ahead of the ceremony.
When Horner asked after the Prince of Wales, who was famously photographed with a lipstick kiss mark on his cheek after receiving a peck from the singer, the duchess told her he was “fine”, if a “complete workaholic”.
When the celebrity told the duchess about a book she had read which claimed working is the key to a long life, the duchess agreed “Don’t retire!” before joking “that’s not my problem.”
In a speech to guests, Camilla wondered aloud about what she would have written if she had entered the prize as a child, under the topic “Community in the Commonwealth”.
“I think it might go something like this,” she said.
“Those of us who are part of the Commonwealth of Nations are incredibly privileged to belong to this wonderful community of 54 countries, sharing a spirit of unity, purpose and friendship.
“To quote the famous Canadian literary character, Anne of Green Gables, ‘I’m so thankful for friendship: it beautifies life so much’.
“Our Commonwealth community gives each of us 2.4 billion friends.
“And I believe the 2.4 billion of us do much to beautify life for one another: rejoicing in each other’s successes, benefiting from each other’s wisdom, and supporting and sustaining one another through difficult times.”
Saying she had already witnessed the power of the prize in her travels around the world, she added: “I am determined to visit more Commonwealth countries as soon as I can, and I promise you that I will always seek out the QCEC wherever I go.”
Founded in 1883, it is believed to be the world’s oldest international writing competition for schools and aims to promote literacy, expression, and creativity among young people throughout the Commonwealth.
This year, nearly 26,000 children entered on the theme “Community in the Commonwealth”, with 130 judges whittling entries down to a final four winners.
The winners were Kayla Bosire, aged 16 from Nairobi, Kenya who flew to London to be presented with her award, and 13-year-old Ethan Charles Mufuma, who had a Zoom call with the duchess from the British High Commission in Uganda.
Runners-up, who also visited St James’s Palace, were Aditi Nair aged 15 from New Delhi, India, and Raisa Gulati aged 14 from Amritsar, India.
Judges included bestselling author Dame Susan Hill, author Hiya Chowdhury, head of research for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Dr Paul Edmondson, poet, painter and writer Sia Figiel, theatre maker Femi Elufowoju Jr, and Emeritus Professor Satendra Nandan from Fiji.