Keynote Speech for Queen's Birthday Party Reception

Keynote speech by the British High Commissioner to Brunei, HE Rob Fenn, at the British High Commission's Queen's Birthday Party Reception.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

HE Rob Fenn delivering his speech

Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Haji Abd Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Second Minister of Finance at the Prime Minister’s Office and Yang Mulia Datin Hajah Sapiah binti Haji Sabtu

Diplomatic colleagues and friends of every nationality – including at the High Commission, who have worked so hard to stage this event.

Special thanks also to the International School Brunei Primary Choir, under the direction of Kevin Fell, who have just sung our National Anthems so beautifully.

Thank you, Yang Berhormat Pehin and Yang Mulia Datin, for gracing our tribute to the inspiring power of Monarchy. Sixty years ago, this month, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in London. Coronation is our theme tonight, as we hope you can tell.

Two year’s ago we celebrated the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – “William & Kate” to people all round the world. Soon, God willing, we will celebrate the birth of their first child - an heir to the Throne. At our reception, we used an avenue of living trees to evoke those in Westminster Abbey enjoyed by special guests, including His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.

Last year we had an avenue of Olympic Flags to mark Olympic Year, “London 2012”; and Union Flags to mark the visit to Windsor Castle by His Majesty as part of the select group of Crowned Heads who helped Queen Elizabeth celebrate 60 years on the throne – our Diamond Jubilee.

This year our trees are more… architectural. No trees were hurt in the making of this Reception. But that’s more than can be said for some of my team – these trees are heavy. So please don’t try to climb them, or pick their lovely leaves.

We thank each one of the hundreds of Brunei primary school children who answered our call for crowns. We thank their art teachers and their parents too. It was impossible to pick a winner. We liked them all. So Julia photographed every crown for our archive. But since I went to the length of buying two prizes from the Buckingham Palace Shop - you guessed it, two crowns - we have selected two young artists for special mention:

From Seri Mulia Sarjana International School, Siti Amal Rabbiyatul Farah Haninah. If Siti Amal Rabbiyatul can’t be here this evening, I gather her elder sisters will pick up the prize on her behalf: Siti Amal Hafizah and Siti Amal Liyana.

And, from Panaga School, this completely charming “bean crown” was made by Yeoh Yi Jing. We’ll send our crown prize to Yi Jing later. But I wanted to share with you now a dedication which accompanied this entry: “wishing that all Her Majesty’s subjects in England have enough to eat”. That’s one young person who has understood that modern Monarchy is all about caring for the people.

My next pleasant duty is to announce the winners of our Digital Scrapbook Competition. We have been running this for three years now, as a tribute to the knowledge economy in Brunei, and to show how much we appreciate Brunei’s contribution to the knowledge economy in Britain.

Each year I have been bowled over by the creativity of Bruneian students, and by the thoughtful things they have to say about studying abroad. This year’s top two films were the most polished I have seen. But the film we put in third place was also very watchable, made by a young woman whose ideas about education deserve a wide audience. Her name is Siti Amalina Haji Mohd Jaafar. Her parents are in the hall tonight. I hope they will describe to her – over in UK - this round of applause.

The film our jury put in second place, as a very close runner-up, is an accomplished work of art. That prize goes to Mohamad Rusydi Haji Roseli. His father, mother and sister are all with us this evening.

And the overall winner is… Well, I’m not going to say his name, because here he is in celluloid. He manages to pack 110% of his personality into 3 short minutes.

Joj’s father and sister are with us this evening, I believe. All the other entries in our Digital Scrapbook Competition are playing on a screen in the hall. Along with rushes from a spin-off film, which we call our Glasgow Project because it is made by students from Glasgow University who won the competition last year. The High Commission engaged them to interview an older generation of Bruneians on their memories of education in UK.

As we hoped, the “Glasgow Project” has unearthed a treasure trove. Some of the reminiscences are light-hearted, others poignant and instructive; all shed light on our shared history. Please have a look at all these films. The creativity of Bruneians is amazing.

Which brings me to the aMaZeUs Competition and our hybrid vehicle – here in the foyer tonight for you all to admire its new livery. This was created for us as part of a competition we ran with the Brunei Economic Development Board and the i-Centre earlier this summer - our salute to the design community in Brunei. The brief was to come up with images which illustrate the research networks which bind Britain and Brunei, celebrating science and innovation, design and technology – and the way such collaboration can drive the Sultanate’s economic diversification.

The car also had to be a billboard for our new website address. A complicated commission, but one which the winner discharged with style and skill. Carolyn Lee is here tonight, and has already received her prize – as have eight other deserving contestants. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

That website is where you can find all the films I’m talking about this evening – and much more, including my blogs. Most of those blogs link to a home-movie of some kind, which chronicle High Commission exploits. Over nearly 4 years in this photogenic country – half the lifetime of our boys – amateur film-making has become my passion. Self-indulgently, I’m going to show you some of my personal favourites during the second half of this Reception, but with the sound down low, so as not to interrupt the important business of refreshments and networking.

But there is one film you’ll be able to take home with you tonight in DVD form – the one of which I am most proud. It’s called: English as an ASEAN Language: The Brunei Story. Co-produced by CfBT, we made it in close association with the Ministry of Education, many of whose officers star in the film. Y B Pehin Abu Bakar provided the impetus for the project, by sharing with me his insights into the significance of English as a medium of learning, alongside Malay. On the back cover, you’ll be able to read all about how we used the film at the SEAMEO Council Conference in Hanoi this year, where the UK became an Associate Member of the region’s Education Ministers’ organization.

Yang Berhormat Pehin, before I end, I must ask you to convey to the rest of the Brunei Government the UK’s congratulations for what Brunei’s ASEAN Chairmanship has already achieved, and best wishes for the second half. As the Second Minister of Finance at the Prime Minister’s Office knows better than I, the well-being and dynamism of this region – which benefits us all – has not come about overnight, or by accident. It has been the work of patient decades.

The Economic pillar of ASEAN seems to be in the vanguard. I say this not because you are our guest, Pehin (though it’s a reason to be especially pleased that you and your lieutenants are here this evening). Your work to deliver practical benefits to the citizens of ASEAN is storing up goodwill, within and between the countries of this region; and with your partners in trade and investment all round the world. That will make other parts of the ASEAN project easier to achieve. I’m sure I speak for all my diplomatic colleagues in saying, we wish the project well; and we admire the way Brunei is discharging its duties in the Chair.

For Julia and me, this is the last Queen’s Birthday Party we will host in Bandar. The Fenn family return to South Hampstead and the FCO next month, after HM’s Birthday.

But the ties that bind Britain and Brunei are so tight that we will never really leave. When I see Waitrose products in the London supermarket I will always think of SupaSave. When Julia walks on Hampstead Heath she will probably get arrested for carrying a parang. And if my children make it to university, it will be thanks not only to the quality of education at ISB, but to having been raised in a place with strong traditions and values – with education at its core.

So, Pehin, Datin, thank you for having us. Brunei Darussalam, selamat tinggal. The UK is with you every step of the way.

Published 19 June 2013