Queen praised for role in reviving young writers’ competition

The Queen was hailed at a Buckingham Palace awards ceremony for helping to revive a national writing competition which celebrates young talent.

Camilla helped host the BBC 500 Words event and was credited by writer and comic Charlie Higson, a member of the judging panel alongside Sir Lenny Henry, as ensuring the project’s return after a three-year hiatus.

The young finalists had their entries read in the palace’s ballroom by a group of celebrity readers who included Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston, actor Luke Evans and talent show judge Oti Mabuse.

The Queen presented the gold awards and the winners will be announced during a special episode of the BBC’s The One Show on March 7, World Book Day.

BBC writing competition reception
The Queen with (left to right) Malorie Blackman, Charlie Higson and Francesca Simon (Chris Jackson/PA)

Hiddleston told Camilla after the ceremony “We’ve had a three-year gap”, and she replied, “and I never ever thought we were going to bring it back again, but the very kind people at the BBC did listen, thought it was a good idea and here we are”.

Since the competition was first launched in 2011 by Chris Evans on the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, it has received more than one million stories from children throughout the UK.

Last year entrants in two age categories, five to seven-year-olds and eight to 11-year-olds, were asked to use their creativity and write the story they wanted to read.

Higson was asked if the Queen was a fan of his hit BBC comedy series The Fast Show and replied: “I’ve never asked her”, before adding mischievously: “The question everyone always wants to ask, is ‘do you watch The Crown?’ – I’ll probably be put in the Tower for treason.”

Speaking about 500 Words he added: “She’s genuinely been a huge supporter of this, really keen on promoting literacy and it was really down to her that the competition came back, she twisted a few arms and said ‘this is a really good thing, you’ve got to carry on’.”

After the presentation ceremony Sir Lenny, with fellow judges and the celebrity readers, was ushered into a state room away from afternoon tea laid out for guests in the nearby picture gallery, and he jokingly complained to the Queen about the lack of biscuits.

“I said there’s no food here, man, when we arrived there was no biscuits, no sandwiches.”

Earlier the comic was in mock uproar when Camilla greeted judge Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry series, with a kiss on both cheeks, saying loudly “hang on we never got that”.

BBC writing competition reception
Queen Camilla during a reception at Buckingham Palace in London (Chris Jackson/PA)

Sir Lenny said later: “It was amazing, judging, as you would expect, was difficult because there is so much talent out there, but in the end what happens is there’s a massive sifting process and you end up with the final 50 stories.

“And we read and respond, and first of all you’re in your pants at home eating Jammie Dodgers reading these stories, then you get in a room and you learn whether there’s a coherent strategy, whether we all agree and actually what’s amazing our taste was quite similar.”