In November, Shreeya, Siddhi, Kong and Mitali, the winners of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2023, were invited to London for Winners’ Week, a programme of cultural and educational activities, designed to highlight the range of opportunities and industries which creative writing can open the door. This year, Winners’ Week was full of exciting activities and memorable experiences for our winners, who left London full of gratitude, new ideas and enhanced motivation to pursue their dreams.
Winners’ Week began with a fascinating writing workshop at the Mulberry School of Girls held by award-winning British Pakistani poet Imtiaz Dharker. Imtiaz prompted our winners to consider the theme of freedom, culminating in a wonderful poem by each student that was shared with the class. This exercise facilitated confidence and collaboration, leading our winners to make friends with the schoolgirls who were also involved in the activity and encouraged cultural exchange.
This was followed by the winners joining the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, for lunch in Speaker’s House, and meeting his cat Attlee! After a discussion with Mr Speaker, the winners were then given an exclusive tour of the Houses of Parliament, which included an opportunity to watch the Speaker’s Procession, followed by observing a live debate in the House of Commons.
Photo Credit: UK Parliament
The day ended with a tour of Bloomsbury – as fans of Harry Potter, they relished the opportunity to discover where it all started! Here, they learned about the processes that go into publishing books from Publishing Director Jayne Parsons. Our winners learned a lot from this exchange, and Junior Runner-up Mitali noted:
“One thing I learnt from her is how an editor can give you fresh perspective and honest feedback. I will be more open to feedback and criticism regarding my work in the future.”
On Tuesday, the winners woke up early to travel to Stratford-upon-Avon for all things Shakespeare: they visited his birthplace and grave and learned about Shakespearean music. It was a day full of culture and fun. Our wonderful guide, The Rev Dr Paul Edmonson (Chair of the QCEC Junior Judging Panel), steered us through the streets of the old town and explained the history behind its’ famous churches and monuments. It was a memorable day. In Junior Runner-up Mitali’s own words:
“You truly need to be there and walk down the streets that Shakespeare once walked to feel the magic of the little town.”
On Wednesday, winners experienced a bespoke tour of Westminster Abbey, where our guide was swayed by the passion of our winners. Former Prime Ministers and the lesser-known figures memorialised and buried at the Abbey were highlighted – especially those with links to the Commonwealth. The winners thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of the Abbey and seeing their favourite writers like Charles Dickens memorialised. Senior Winner Siddhi noted:
“The historical site I enjoyed the most was Westminster Abbey - especially Poet’s Corner. To be in the presence of the poets I admire so much was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope to visit it again in the future, and the Abbey will definitely serve as an inspiration in my future writing.”
Following this, the winners were graced with the wisdom and knowledge of Doug Wills, Editor Emeritus and his team at the London Evening Standard. The afternoon gave the winners the opportunity to tour the newsroom and engage in a discussion with Doug and his team about multimedia and the opportunities it presents, sowing seeds of inspiration in our budding writers. This was followed by the group enjoying sunset views above the BBC Broadcasting House as they recorded their winning pieces with experienced producers. The day ended with the group taking a trip to Cambridge Theatre to watch Matilda, the Musical.
On Thursday morning, the winners had the opportunity to share their essays and engage in interesting conversations with the High Commissioners of India and Malaysia at their respective High Commissions.
At last, it was time for the moment the winners had all been waiting for: their Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty The Queen! RCS Ambassador Gyles Brandreth acted as compère for the Ceremony, during which The Queen and the RCS Executive Chair, Dr Linda Yueh CBE, spoke about the importance of the competition to elevate the voices of young people around the Commonwealth.
The winners were awarded their certificates by Her Majesty, and extracts from their winning pieces were read by RCS Ambassador Ayesha Dharker, actors Dame Joanna Lumley DBE, Meera Syal CBE, Sanjeev Bhaskar OBE and Booker Prize winner Sir Ben Okri OBE.
The Award Ceremony was also centre stage for the launch of a new digital literacy initiative, Write Around the World, developed in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature.
Winners’ Week concluded with a special reception celebrating 140 years of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. Held at the House of Lords and hosted by Lord Gadhia, we were pleased to be joined by current and former winners of the competition, members of the diplomatic corps and competition supporters for the launch of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition: 140 Years of Excellence, a commemorative publication published by Bloomsbury to celebrate this unique Commonwealth writing competition.
During the reception, guests heard from Lord Gadhia, Dr Linda Yueh CBE, Dr Stephen Gichuhi (1982 competition winner from Kenya) and His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State about the important role literacy plays.
This was a wonderful opportunity for past and present winners to engage and enjoy a leisurely evening before heading back home.
Congratulations again to this year’s winners, to everyone who entered and to all those who judged and supported the competition. We look forward to launching the next competition in March 2024!