February 18, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 38

By Sir John Major


The Sir Winston Churchill Award is a tough measure. Sir Winston is probably—some would say certainly— the greatest Englishman in our long history. Great not just because of his achievements, but because of his capacity to hold his course when, as almost a lone voice, he was criticised, only to be proved right in the end.

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Our recipient tonight has, over the years, faced his own criticism, his own setbacks, yet held firm to his own beliefs. That is the first of many reasons he is worthy of this award.

Let me touch on some of the qualities that make me say that. First, I think that he and Sir Winston are driven by the same sense of obligation and public duty. Churchill served in Parliament for over sixty years, and held most of the principal Offices of State. His record may never be equalled.

Consider now the role of His Royal Highness. He began his public life even younger than Churchill, at the age of sixteen nearly fifty years ago. Since then, the sheer breadth of his interests and activities has been staggering—and we’d be here a long time if I attempted to list them all.

He is never simply a “name on the letterhead.” Nor does he just “turn up” at events. He takes a genuine and personal interest in every organisation with which he is involved. His care, his attention to detail, is a Churchillian trait: wherever you are, whatever you are there for, whatever the task, give everything of yourself. Not just for your own sake, but on behalf of Britain and the Commonwealth or, in Churchill’s prime, the Empire, and later the Commonwealth.

Churchill was a child of the Empire but after its birth he realised the importance of the Commonwealth. He understood its role in fostering democratic, cultural, legal and moral values, nor was he blind to its more prosaic role in promoting trade and investment. He understood, too, as well as anyone, the unique role the Royal Family plays in shaping and developing Britain’s relationships around the world.

Again our honoured guest illustrates the point. Since 1969, he has visited thirty-three Commonwealth countries, some repeatedly. Last year alone he and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall travelled to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and Canada as part of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. They have only just returned from a nine-day visit to India and Sri Lanka, during which for the first time the Prince of Wales represented HM The Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Alongside this public role sits another Churchillian trait: a wish to improve society. His Royal Highness has used his national and international profile to stimulate debate and bring about change, not just here at home, but overseas as well. And his thinking has often been ahead of its time.

He is, in essence, the world’s greatest “convener.” If you have the Prince of Wales on your side, you are highly likely to succeed. Whether he is championing the cause of British rural farmers or the rain forests in far-off lands, he will bring people together and make the impossible possible.

In 1976 he founded The Prince’s Trust, which has literally transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people. Today, he actively presides over charities that collectively form the largest multi-group charitable enterprise in the UK. These charities are active in a wide range of areas, and span every community throughout Britain. Collectively they raise over £100 million each year in support of their aims. It is an incredible legacy.

Such success doesn’t just happen magically. It requires vision and leadership—and another Churchillian quality, courage: the courage to follow one’s convictions. Sir Winston wrote: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.” There are many types of courage: physical, intellectual, moral—and throughout his long public life, our recipient has demonstrated them all.

I have spoken of courage, personal conviction, dedication to duty, charitable endeavour, pride in country, and the wish to make it and the wider world a better place. All of these qualities demonstrate that His Royal Highness is not only a man of passion, but a man of action for his passions.

Yet—again like Churchill—he is wise enough to have a private hinterland, through which he finds solace and calm in an otherwise frenetic world. Lord alone knows how he ever finds time for such pursuits, but he is widely respected as an authority on gardening and landscaping, and is also an artist of distinction. If I may say so, Sir, many of us will feel a deep sense of envy at this glittering roll call of talent.

Beyond all of the above, let me close on a personal note. I have enormous admiration and respect for our recipient— which is why it gives me very great personal pleasure to have the honour and privilege to invite His Royal Highness to accept the Sir Winston Churchill Award for 2013.

Sir John Major KG CH PC was Britain’s Prime Mnister from 1990 to 1997.

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