The Queen’s Reading Room Launch Speeches
Her Majesty The Queen Consort
Your Majesty. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a huge pleasure to welcome you all, writers, publishers and book lovers, to Clarence House, a week late, but COVID free. So thank you very much for re-jigging your busy diaries and coming today.
Now, just over six years ago, John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He gave a stirring speech on that occasion, a copy of which should, I believe, be on the desk of every author as an encouragement and as a reminder of the ancient commission of the writer. He said this: ‘I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.’ I would like to take this opportunity to echo that lion’s roar on your behalf, and, of course, to rectify the unaccountable omission of great and good women. All of you here must take the most enormous pride in your profession and in the part you play in bringing joy, comfort, laughter, companionship and hope through your writing. You open our eyes to others’ experiences and remind us that we are not alone. Human beings have always needed the connection of literature, its wisdom, as well as its share escapism.
In today’s challenging climate, we need it more than ever. Since my childhood I’ve known this to be true. But after I launched my Reading Room two years ago, I’ve received countless letters and online comments that have demonstrated to me that this is a universal truth. As some of you may know, my Reading Room started as a list of nine of my favourite books, literally scribbled on a piece of paper during the first lockdown. It is now a global community of over 155,000 supported by internationally renowned men and women of letters, as well as thousands of readers. I’m now delighted to announce that The Reading Room has become a charity working to close the gap between readers and writers and helping people of all ages and backgrounds find and connect to books. We have lots of excitements in the pipeline, and I do very much hope you’ll be able to attend our first literary festival at Hampton Court Palace later this year, when we shall bring together some of the world’s foremost authors, actors, experts and literature lovers for a day celebrating the written word. The development of my Reading Room could never have happened without you all, and I’m deeply grateful to each one of you for your support and contributions to it.
So thank you on behalf of book lovers of book clubs everywhere for sharing your talents with us and for everything you do to promote literacy and a love of literature. Please keep doing so and please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination. Enough said!
But let there be no squeaking like mice about your achievements, but only roaring like a pride of lions. Thank you.
Your Majesty. Your Majesty. Ladies and gentlemen. The King is not going to speak. He says he’s come to hear me speak. That can’t quite be true.
I’m going to say a few words, as one of the trustees of this new charity. But before I do, can I just say how wonderful it is for all of us to be in Their Majesties’ home and to have as our King and Queen people that we know love literature, love books. To have such champions as our King and Queen is simply fantastic. It really is. So we are thrilled to be here.
Today is the birthday of Samuel Pepys, and most of the people, Your Majesties, in this room, of course, keep diaries. Those who don’t will be starting this evening, because what a wonderful way to start your diary, ‘This morning I happened to be…’, yes. Because I keep a diary, I know that a year ago today, I was introduced to a short poem by David Walser. David Walser is, was the partner of a wonderful author and illustrator, Jan Pieńkowski. And at Jan’s funeral, David read this poem that he had written. ‘Flowers come, they bloom and go. / We love them and we miss them so. / The same with friends. They come. They grow. / And then one day they up and go. / We love them and we miss them so.’
Now that is true of flowers and of friends. But it’s not true of books. Books are the friends that last, books are for us the friends that we can depend on, books are the friends that we can take on holiday, we can take on the bus, you can go to bed with a good book and wake up with a clear conscience. And to have in the Queen Consort somebody who has championed books all her life is just a wonderful thing. She fell in love with books as a child, through her life I know books have to her been a companion, a consolation, books you go to when you want to laugh, when you want to cry, when you want to think, when you want to be stimulated, occasionally when you want to be annoyed. That’s why you go to a book and it’s always there and it always will be there. She loves books and has created this Reading Room that is now a charity, that is a global charity, her commitment to books, to literacy – there are people here from other charities in which she is involved – you know that her commitment is real. People from the Commonwealth, they know that every time Their Majesties visit a Commonwealth country, the Queen Consort makes sure that she visits a school or a library locally and shows her commitment to books and reading. They open the world for children and they keep the world alive for older people. Books are everything.
And now that The Reading Room, The Queen’s Reading Room, is going to be a charity, it’s going to be for years to come encouraging and helping, enabling young people, old people, people across the world to enjoy books. It’s a wonderful thing. And there’s going to be this festival, 11th of June at Hampton Court Palace, where Shakespeare, as the King will probably remind you, where Shakespeare and his players performed, where the King James Bible, I think, was first commissioned, on 11th of June there will be a special festival there to which all of you are invited. Some of you I know will be performing. This is an extraordinary and important day and we are just simply gathered here to say thank you for inviting us.
Thank you for doing what you have done, Your Majesty, over the recent years and what you’re going to do.
And I want to end, if I may, simply by asking us all to raise a metaphorical glass before we disperse. We are asked to encourage you to move into other rooms in just a moment. Admire the books, just over the spines, no need to touch. But that’s what you must do in just a moment. Before you do, can we raise a metaphorical glass? We know the King is here, but I want to actually focus on the Queen, because it is The Queen’s Reading Room, now a charity, going global. 155,000 people already follow online. I mean, this is just the beginning of this great adventure, encouraging everyone to enjoy words, illustrations, books, the smell of them, the feel of them, the touch of them, books are everything. And that’s what our new Queen is here to make happen for all of us.
Can we please raise our metaphorical glasses to the Queen and The Queen’s Reading Room?
To the Queen and The Queen’s Reading Room!