On 27 June British Ambassador to Slovenia Andrew Page delivered speech in the presence of TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex and 700 guests.
Your Royal Highnesses, Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the day we gather to celebrate HM The Queen’s birthday, it is such a privilege to be able to do so in the presence of members of the Royal Family. Your Royal Highnesses, your visit is a joyous occasion for us all, British and Slovenes alike. So many Slovenes have told me how honoured they feel that you are here. Thank you both for coming and for entering into this whole visit with such enthusiasm.
A year ago, we stood in the garden of the Residence in a down-pour, but the heavens did nothing to dampen our spirits as we celebrated the Diamond Jubilee and looked forward to London’s Games. This month’s ceremony at Westminster Abbey marking the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation was another wonderful reminder of the six decades of Her Majesty’s reign. 2012 was a sublime British summer. How do we follow that in Ljubljana in 2013, we wondered? How better than with another Royal Visit, five years after the State Visit to Slovenia?
During Her visit, Her Majesty spoke about the enduring love affair British visitors have with the Julian Alps, dating back to early days of Slovenian tourism in the 1920s. “Winter or summer”, she said, “our tourists admire the beauty of your forests, mountains and lakes and enjoy your warm hospitality”. Your Royal Highnesses, Slovenia has the rare distinction of having hosted visits not only by HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh but also by all four of their children. We hope that you will return to Britain after your three days here with happy impressions of Slovenia’s natural beauty and hospitality to share at the Family dining table.
The leitmotif running through your visit, and my theme today, is encouragement of young people: how we can help them to improve their lives, through education, enterprise and innovation, at times of high unemployment. This lies at the heart of so much that you both do in the organisations and charities of which you are Patrons.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award has given hope and inspiration to millions of young people in 140 countries around the world. The Award builds their self-confidence, develops their leadership skills and fosters community spirit. As Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Sir, you work tirelessly to promote the Award around the world. Here in Slovenia, under the name of “Mednarodno priznanje za mlade” (MEPI), the Award has grown to over 30 schools and youth organisations around the country. Tomorrow, at a ceremony in Brdo pri Kranju, along-side the Award’s Patron in Slovenia President Pahor, you will present 50 Gold Awards to a new generation of “Zlatniki”. You will also speak at a breakfast organised by the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce for young entrepreneurs, explaining how the Award enhances participants’ employment prospects.
Yesterday, you had a glimpse of Slovenia’s talent and innovation in the creative industries when you visited a workshop devoted to sustainable fashion, bringing together young people from Ljubljana University and design experience from the London College of Fashion, of which you, Ma’am, are Patron. Today, you also witnessed a performance by pupils of the British International School that showed the intoxicating cocktail that results from mixing young Slovenes with 30 nationalities – the School has grown exponentially since it was opened by Her Majesty five years ago. Tomorrow, you will see Lippizaners performing at a hippo-therapy centre in Kamnik for young people with disabilities. Your Royal Highnesses, with your permission I will now break into Slovene, to share with our guests a few reflections at this, my last Queen’s Birthday Party in Ljubljana.
When I first came to Ljubljana, my predecessor Tim Simmons said to me: “Andrew, you’re a lucky man – being Ambassador to Slovenia is the nicest job in the Service.” Looking back, I can confirm he was right. The reason lies in the next thing he said: “Slovenia is a beautiful country, but her warm, generous people are her greatest treasure”. For me personally, Ladies and Gentlemen, the key to unlocking this treasure trove has lain in learning the Slovenian language – for which I am in the debt of my teacher and friend Natasa Stanic.
Let me share a few vignettes to illustrate the rich variety of the life of a British Ambassador in Slovenia.
The most memorable victory? Slovenia v Russia at Maribor Football Stadium, qualifying for the World Cup.
My most memorable defeat? 11/2 in a game of table-tennis against Paralympian medal-winner Mateja Pintar.
The most memorable speech? In front of 20,000 people in Slovene at the spectacular Red Arrows air show.
The most memorable party? Dead heat, between Olympics Opening Party and Party for the Royal Wedding.
The most memorable award? T-Shirt from the merry wine-makers of Mokronog at their “cvicek” festival.
The most embarrassing moment? Confusing “krof” (doughnut) and “skof” (bishop) when addressing a Bishop!
Your younger generation, Ladies and Gentlemen, have starred in so many of my most uplifting recollections – whether in their high standard of English, their sense of voluntarism or their courage in the face of adversity. Let me give you one example of each. First, standard of English: I think back to the outstanding debate on the Future of Europe, in flawless English, by your students, moderated by our Speaker John Bercow. Second, sense of voluntarism: I recall the enthusiasm with which students of St Stanislav’s and my school of Lancing visited Bosnia together and built a house, brick by brick, for a family bereft by war. Third, courage: I remember well how touched I felt when I met the children at Mala Hisa and saw how bravely they confronted the difficulties in their lives – and I felt proud that the Embassy was able to help their charity at last year’s Midsummer Gala.
These inspiring young people give me faith in the future of your country, Ladies and Gentlemen. I shall leave in December with real confidence that, with your abundant talent, you will resolve your financial problems without a bail-out; that the next generation of Slovenes will draw a line under the ideological divisions while respecting their ancestors’ legacy; that political consensus will grow; and that Slovenia will continue to develop into a mature democracy, at ease with itself, opening up more to investment over time, returning to economic growth, and playing its part with pride in the EU and around the world.
My four years in Slovenia have coincided with some of the hardest times, not just in Slovenia but in the UK too and right across Europe. Hardship, and lack of confidence in politicians’ will to resolve it, can tend to erode a people’s self-esteem. But I don’t want to dwell on this today. Recently, one of today’s Sponsors said to me: “Andrew, you are always so positive about Slovenia”. I suppose I am; but it is genuine. Tough times call for a spirit of optimism – as well as hard work. In Slovenia, this runs in the blood of so many of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, particularly your young people. As Churchill once said: “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.
Your Royal Highnesses, in a moment we will enjoy a performance that embodies the goals of the British House in Slovenia: all parts of the British family – Embassy, Council, Chamber, School and MEPI – working seamlessly together. Jethro Paine, son of the President of the Chamber and pupil at the British School, recently beat a field of 1000 candidates to win a place at the Royal Ballet School – a huge accolade both for him and for the Conservatoire of Ljubljana where he is studying. Jethro will dance alongside young Slovenian students in two hits from the West End musical “Billy Elliot”, with music by Elton John, culminating in a solo performance of the dance – “Electricity” – which wins Billy his place at the Royal Ballet School.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s QBP is gloriously British, in true garden-party style, embellished by vintage Rolls Royces re-enacting their Alpine Centenary Tour of 1913. I want to thank all those who have contributed to the party’s success, in particular the Slovenian Government for allowing us to use the gardens of their Guest House Vila Podroznik; our sponsors, who have once again been most generous, especially our Gold Sponsors, Summit Auto, PWC, Shell, Grand Union Hotel, Pernod Ricard and Petre Tents; the Conservatoire, for helping us to put on tonight’s musical performance; and above all colleagues at the Embassy who, under the leadership of my PA Nataša, have worked with Rolls Royce-like efficiency to enable us to stage our biggest ever QBP.
My final vote of thanks I reserve for British Council Director James Hampson, who will leave Slovenia in a month’s time. James, you have brought such energy and vision to the Council’s work in Slovenia, bringing the British and Slovenes together through the creative industries and English Language Training, with outstanding results. Congratulations for all you have achieved, many thanks, and best of luck to you and the family as you move on to a very different set of challenges in Cairo.
Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me summarise in the words of Slovenia’s beloved poet Preseren in his poem Zdravljica: “Mladenci, zdaj se pije zdravljica vasa, vi nas up”, “our hope now, our tomorrow, the youth, we toast and toast with joy” – and with confidence in Slovenia’s future, and renewed thanks to The Earl and Countess of Wessex for their visit, let me invite you all to raise your glasses and drink to the health of Her Majesty The Queen and the President of the Republic of Slovenia.