You are here

Welcome speeches from Jonathan Taylor CBE, Chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall

Welcome speeches from Jonathan Taylor CBE, Chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall

Jonathan Taylor CBE, Chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation welcomes the guests to the Man Booker winner announcement dinner 2013

“Good evening and welcome to the 45th award of the prize, now the Man Booker Prize. Particularly welcome are our six shortlisted authors and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall.

You will have noticed last week that Alice Munro from Canada won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is pleasing that Alice was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and we have sent our warm congratulations to her.

But the main event of this evening comes at the end of dinner when Robert Macfarlane, the chairman of the judges, will announce the winner. But in the meantime we should celebrate the shortlist which has been so widely praised and critically acclaimed, even described by some as the best ever. We will be seeing and hearing more of the shortlisted writers in a moment. Robert described the longlist as ‘wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject’ and that description remains true of the shortlisted books of which he said they are ‘world spanning in their concerns and ambitious in their techniques, they remind us of the possibilities and power of the novel’. I also liked the heading of Fintan O’Toole’s article about the shortlist in the Observer: ‘this glorious and anarchic English language that lets everyone in’. This shortlist is surely a celebration of the glory of the English language in all its vigour, its vitality and its versatility. The home and hinterland of literary fiction in English must be the English language; it should not be constrained by passports and border controls.

But there can be no literary fiction without literacy. I am sure we were all alarmed by the reports last week that achievements in literacy and numeracy in this country were amongst the worst in OECD countries. And amongst the worst areas in this country is Middlesbrough where the Booker Prize Foundation and Her Royal Highness met together early this year and we are delighted to have her with us tonight. The Foundation and the National Literacy Trust, of which Her Royal Highness is patron, have established a first literacy action hub in Middlesbrough where more than 40% of people are lacking in literacy skills. There, with local partners, we have got books into the community, established reading groups, given a mouthpiece to authors, promoted library services and the reading challenge. This successful model is now being extended by the Trust to other areas where literacy is problematic.

We also working with the National Literacy Trust to encourage prisoners to read shortlisted novels and we’re bringing writers to talk to the prisoners about their work. The widely available Prison Radio Service has also embraced the shortlisted novels. Moving from one extreme to another, our university programmes whereby the Freshman class, whatever the area of study or discipline, are encouraged to read and discuss the same shortlisted novel has continued to expand and is now in eight universities. And we fund the RNIB to make quickly available the shortlist in braille, audio book and giant print so the blind and partially sighted can share in the discussion and excitement of the shortlist.

My last words are to pay huge tribute to the great generosity and wisdom of our sponsors, the Man Group, and you are about to hear from their amazingly well and widely read Chief Executive, Manny Roman. But as a footnote you should also be aware that tonight the champagne and wines have been donated by Booker Plc.”

 

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a huge pleasure for me to be here tonight for the first time, in such august company, to share the excitement of this evening.  The annual announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is the highlight of the literary calendar.  And so as a passionate reader myself, I’m delighted to be here. 

Now in its 45th year, the Man Booker Prize still generates the same heady excitement.  That’s because each year a different panel of judges will discuss, debate and, dare I say it, argue, the various merits of a veritable mountain of wonderful books.  I know that the Chairman of Judges, Robert Macfarlane, has some experience of mountain climbing.  And I only hope that this particular armchair ascent is every bit as thrilling and exhilarating as the real thing.

How you all agree on one winner, I don’t know, given the universal excellence of the Shortlist.  But we, the 'common readers', long to know the victor, because it either gives us the chance to discover a new writer.  Or an opportunity to celebrate the work of someone more established.

Now we may disagree with the choice of winner.  That is the nature of any judged competition.  But the whole point of this prize is not just to reward the masters of well-honed prose, but to celebrate the astonishing, and intoxicating, breadth, depth and beauty of the written word.

I was lucky enough to have a father who loved books, and who passed that love of reading on to me.  And I get as much delight reading to my grandchildren as I do getting lost in my own favourite writers.  The power of great literature is immense, a key to other kingdoms, an escape from the dull and mundane.  And many will discover this great and lifelong pleasure thanks to the Man Booker Prize.  

If I may, I should also like to thank the Booker Prize Foundation and the Man Group for its wider work in promoting literacy.  Earlier this year, as Patron of the National Literacy Trust, I visited the UK's first 'Literacy Action Hub' in Middlesbrough – an area which is bearing the brunt of the economic decline.  This ground-breaking project is addressing some of the worst literacy problems in the country by bringing people together from all parts of the community – including local government, businesses and charities – to create a major campaign to 'get Middlesbrough reading'.  The project has already had a huge impact and its success would not have been possible without vital seed-funding from the Booker Prize Foundation. 

But now I mustn't keep you any longer from hearing more about these six outstanding authors who have reached this year's shortlist.  Huge congratulations to you all, and the very best of British luck!”