May I send my warmest wishes from Wales to our friends across the World on St David’s Day.
To celebrate our national day, children across Wales will be dressing up in traditional Welsh costumes and many schools will hold their own ‘eisteddfod’, a Welsh festival of music and poetry. Towns and cities across Wales will hold St David’s Day parades and the many Welsh societies around the World will be celebrating in their own unique way.
It is these sorts of traditions that the people of Wales embrace. But although we are a nation proudly steeped in history and tradition, we are also a nation which is continually changing to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.
Wales has long been a popular destination for holidaymakers, who flock here each year to play on our beautiful beaches, climb mountains, indulge in fantastic fresh food or explore our ancient castles, as well as countless other things there are to do here in Wales.
But in recent years Wales has shown that it can compete with the best in the world when it comes to major international events. For two days in September, Wales will take centre stage when the NATO Summit - ‘NATO Wales 2014’ - is held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales. NATO Wales 2014 will be the biggest international political event ever to take place on British soil. The Welsh landscape will provide a stunning backdrop to the event and the decision to hold the Summit here is testament to the facilities and infrastructure Wales can offer. I look forward to welcoming our international guests here to Wales.
The NATO Summit will provide an opportunity to show that Wales is not only a great place to visit or to live, but also a great place to do business. A long list of multi-national companies continue to invest in large-scale operations here. And some of our home-grown companies are producing World-class products, from the finest culinary ingredients to cutting edge manufacturing technology. Through overseas trade missions and exhibitions, the Welsh Government is supporting Welsh businesses to really put Welsh-made goods and services in the shop window.
And it’s not all about business and commerce. In January I visited Uganda for five days to see for myself the work of the Wales for Africa programme. I saw how the programme helps farmers through Fair Trade initiatives, supports tree planting on a large scale and builds health and education links between Wales and Uganda. It was incredibly satisfying for me to witness how the hard work of many people from Wales is having a positive effect on people’s lives thousands of miles away.
Wales is a small nation with a rich cultural heritage, not least in the world of music. Last October we welcomed key figures from the music industry to Wales for the World Music Expo, WOMEX. WOMEX added to a blossoming music festival scene here in Wales with festivals such as Green Man set in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons and Festival No.6 in the Italianate village of Portmeirion. Both host some of the finest musical talent in the world, set against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty.
Culturally, this is also a special year for Wales as we mark the centenary of the birth of one of the great poets and playwrights of the 20th Century, Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas’s work, such as the classic Under Milk Wood, continues to influence poets, writers, musicians and artists right across the World. The events taking place this year as part of the Dylan Thomas 100 celebrations, from Australia to India, from Canada and the United States to Argentina, are a reflection of the global and enduring appeal of a true Welsh icon.
And it’s never been a better time to be a sports fan in Wales. This year we’ve seen two Welsh teams, Cardiff and Swansea, compete against each other for the first time in football’s Premier League, while young players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsay have emerged to become global superstars. Last summer saw a British and Irish Lions rugby team dominated by Welsh players win a memorable series victory in Australia. And athletes like Non Stanford in the Triathlon and Becky James in Cycling have brought World titles home to Wales in two of the toughest sports around. I anticipate more sporting success as our athletes put on the red of Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July, where I’m sure they’ll do us proud once again.
Sporting achievement will be one of nine awards presented at the inaugural St David Awards on 13th March this year. The annual St David Awards will celebrate the achievements of exceptional people from all walks of Welsh life. All of the nominees share one thing in common - they are a true inspiration to others and have made a real difference to other people’s lives. And look out for the St David International Award for an exceptional person or group who, through their work, personal prominence or influence, has promoted Wales on the world stage.
And finally, even if you have not been to Wales this year, you may have seen Wales from the comfort of your own living room as some of the finest television is currently being made here in Wales. Programmes such as Sherlock are being watched by millions of dedicated fans across the globe. And not to forget the Time Lord himself, Dr Who, who celebrated his 50th year last year, and continues to take a small part of Wales to the rest of the world, and beyond….
I wish you all a happy St David’s Day!