The Duchess of Cornwall yesterday hosted a reception to celebrate the launch of a campaign for the Royal Voluntary Service, before turning up the glamour as Camilla presented the Man Booker Prize.
Camilla invited the RVS – of which she is president – to Clarence House, where the organisation’s ‘Our Amazing People’ campaign was launched. The project wants to celebrate those in the community that make a real difference through their contributions – the older people with talents, and those who still have expertise and knowledge to share.
The Duchess of Cornwall is an advocate of active ageing and the welfare of the older generation, which is advocated by the RVS, and she became patron of The Silver Line, a helpline for elderly people, as part of her 70th birthday celebrations earlier this year.
The RVS is one of the largest volunteer organisations in the UK, and it supports tens of thousands of older people each month, through such offerings as ‘meals-on-wheels’ and ‘books-on-wheels’, to assist with loneliness and boredom, as well as the need to feed oneself, to help maintain independence.
Guests to the event included Wayne Sleep, Dame Patricia Routledge, Felicity Kendal, Brian Blessed and Anne Widdacombe, some of whom are ambassadors for the RVS.
Former ballet dancer Wayne Sleep, 69, said: “As far as I’m concerned age is just a number and I feel I’m in the prime of my life.
“Once you hit 65 it doesn’t mean you’re past it and unable to do certain things. I intend to continue performing and generally doing as much as I possibly can until I’m no longer able to. That’s what makes life so rich and rewarding.”
The Duchess posed for a photo outside of Clarence House, in front of the organisation’s ad-bus, promoting the campaign.
Later in the evening, Camilla visited London’s Guildhall for the Man Booker Prize. It was the royal guest’s job to award the fiction prize this year.
The Duchess, an avid reader and supporter of literacy causes across the world, said before the awards were handed out: “It is always a little daunting to address such eminent literary company – but I am heartened by the thought that we probably do all have one thing in common: we are here tonight because of books and the pleasure they give us – and what a pleasure that is!
“Books stretch our imagination and transport us to new worlds. They give us a room with a view, and an introduction to a cast of extraordinary characters. They make us laugh, they make us cry and they make us think,” Camilla told the audience.
“Being able to read is second nature to us: it’s impossible to imagine being unable to. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, for many people learning to read can be an insurmountable struggle. Around 15 per cent, or 5.1 million people in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”. That struggle needs to be overcome, both for the sake of those individuals and for the good of the society in which we live.
“Now, you may feel that all this talk of inspiring children to read and write is a far cry from the accomplished works that have made it to the Man Booker Shortlist. But, as I’ve said before, and I shall probably say it again, without literacy there is no literature and without young writers we will be devoid of the great authors of tomorrow….
“And on the subject of the shortlist, let me turn to the heroic efforts of the panel of judges. They have spent months reading a vast number of books to decide on the short list and the ultimate winner. As always, I am full of admiration for them.
“Under the leadership of their Chairman, Baroness Young, it seems to me that they bring to the task a wide experience of cultural viewpoints, together with an open-ness to innovation and sensitivity to the power of language. I am sure you will join me in thanking them.
“And now, before we hear their verdict, I would also like to say a huge thank you to all the finalists here tonight for enhancing our lives with their wonderful stories… and finally, to quote Philip Pullman: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Camilla handed out the main prize for the evening, as well as those for the runners-up: Mohsin Hamid, Fiona Mozley, Ali Smith, and Americans Paul Auster and Emily Fridlund, for their books, ‘Exit West’, ‘Elemet’, ‘Autumn’, ‘4-3-2-1’, and ‘History of Wolves’ respectively.
Wearing shades of bronze for the glamorous occasion, Camilla gave George Saunders the Man Booker Prize for Fiction of 2017, for his novel ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’.
Saunders becomes the second American writer in a row to win the British prize since it was extended to authors across the pond in 2014. He takes home the prestige of the award, which was begun in 1969 and is now recognised as the leading award for high quality English literary fiction, plus £50,000; the author was the bookies’ favourite to win, 2/1.
The novel is based on a true story, when US President Abraham Lincoln visited the cemetery where his 11-year-old son, Willie, was buried. It is narrated by ‘a chorus of dead characters who are either unwilling or unable to let go of life’.
“The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent and deeply moving narrative,” said chair of judges Baroness Young. “This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world.
“Lincoln In The Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with, history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.”