Camilla welcomes Essay Competition winners with first speech as Queen Consort

Camilla gave her first official speech as Queen Consort at a Buckingham Palace reception for winners of the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition on Thursday.

Camilla began her speech by paying tribute to the Queen, who had been a patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society since 1952.

She said: “Over the past few months, my husband and I have drawn immense comfort from the messages of condolence that we have received, and continue to receive, from the four corners of the world.

“They have reminded us that the written word has a unique ability to connect, to heal, to reassure and to offer hope, even in the midst of grief.”

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition
The Queen Consort with Sawooly Li (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Camilla, who became vice-patron of the society in 2018, added: “All of us are bound together by a profound appreciation of the written word and of our Commonwealth.

“This wonderful, extraordinary, richly diverse association of independent and equal nations, and friends, is, truly, ‘ours’, belonging to each one of us, and the connections between us run deep.”

She finished her speech with a quote by the late South African president Nelson Mandela, who she described as a “great writer”, saying “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up”.

A record-breaking 26,322 children entered the 2022 competition, with the winners and runners-up from New Zealand, Australia, the UK and India.

The senior winner was 17-year-old Sawooly Li from New Zealand. Ms Li said Camilla “was lovely” and had spoken to all the nominees individually, adding that the day had been “an amazing experience”.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition
Camilla with (left to right) Ayesha Dharker, Alexandra Burke and Geri Horner (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Ms Li told the PA news agency: “You see Buckingham Palace on television, but you never expect you would come here yourself.”

The junior winner, Madeleine Wood, 14, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, said Camilla had made all the winners “feel relaxed” before going on stage, adding that the American novelist Donna Tartt was one of her favourite authors.

Extracts from the winning pieces were read by Royal Commonwealth Society ambassadors including Alexandra Burke, Ayesha Dharker, Geri Horner and Ben Okri.

Mr Okri, the 1991 Booker Prize winner, said Camilla had “become our great literary Queen Consort”, before reading out Ms Li’s winning entry, Willow Trees and Waterholes.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition
Camilla makes a speech during the reception (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Ms Horner, also known as Ginger Spice from the Spice Girls, recommended The Book Thief by Markus Zusak to Camilla, who said she had it on her “reading board” for the Royal Reading Room.

Camilla also met three previous winners and runners-up from 2020 and 2021, who were not able to attend awards ceremonies due to Covid restrictions.

For 2022, the competition theme was Our Commonwealth, reflecting on the Queen’s seven decades of service to the Commonwealth.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is the world’s oldest international writing competition for schools.

It was founded in 1883 by the Royal Commonwealth Society to promote literacy, expression and creativity among young people throughout the Commonwealth.