Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
I cannot tell you how delighted my wife and I are to be with you this evening at the end of the first day of our first State Visit in France. If
I may say so, it has been worth the wait! We are both enormously touched by the magnificent welcome that has been extended to us. France and the French people have shown us such remarkable warmth and kindness, and we are very grateful.
Your generosity of spirit brings to mind how my family and I were so greatly moved by the tributes paid in France to my Mother, The late Queen, whose funeral took place one year ago yesterday. Mr. President, among the many profoundly moving gestures here, the flying of the Union flag at the Elysée was particularly poignant. Your words, at that time, meant a great dealt to us too. You said that she had touched your hearts – and it was she who held France in the greatest affection, as, of course, did my grandmother Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
My parents’ first official visit together was to France in nineteen forty-eight, shortly after their wedding. By all accounts, they made quite a splash, dancing till the early hours at the glamourous Chez Carrere in the Rue Pierre Charron, serenaded by Edith Piaf. I suspect it may have left an indelible impression on me, even six months before I was born – La Vie en Rose is one of my favourite songs to this day!
And, of course, President Pompidou hosted my mother here at the Palace of Versailles on her second State Visit in nineteen seventy-two. I was reminded recently that when she returned the courtesy with dinner for the President and Madame Pompidou at the Hotel de Charost, they ran into a little more difficulty. Our Embassy tried to bring several cases of English wine over from Hampshire for the banquet, only to be prevented by a customs official at Orly. In those days, there was no such thing as ‘English wine’… As Roland Topor surmised, “les Français ont du vin, les Anglais de l’humour”.
Mr. President – your invitation to visit France and your exceptionally generous hospitality, are symbols of the enduring relationship between our two countries. The connections between our people are myriad, and represent the lifeblood of our Entente Cordiale, which was inspired by my great great Grandfather, King Edward the seventh. As we look ahead to the 120th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale in twenty twenty-four, it is incumbent upon us all to reinvigorate our friendship to ensure it is fit for the challenges of this, the twenty-first century. I was therefore heartened to see the visit of my Prime Minister to Paris earlier this year for the first Franco-British Summit in five years, where you both looked ahead to a renewal of the Entente, strengthening our cooperation to tackle today’s challenges, such as the defence of Ukraine, the misery of human trafficking, access to energy and a sustainable future.
In our long and complex history, our relations have of course not always been entirely straightforward. I think it was a French King who once said that he would rather be a wood-cutter than the King of England, dealing with our national complexities. As an avid forester, I am pleased to report that it is entirely possible to combine the two!
As it happens, woodworkers offer an unexpected example of our modern bonds. Marlin Hendry from the hills of Devon, and Mike Dennis, apprenticed in the valleys of South Wales, are – like many talented artisans – using traditional tools to fashion strong and beautiful new beams for the roof of Notre Dame from their workshop in Normandy.
Having been utterly appalled by the scenes of such devastation following the catastrophic fire four and a half years ago, my wife and I look forward to visiting that magnificent cathedral tomorrow, to see for ourselves how centuries-old crafts have been revived and passed onto apprentices who are helping to restore Notre Dame to its former glory. In this regard, we were both, my wife and myself, so deeply sorry to hear of the death of General Jean-Louis Georgelin, one of France’s great soldiers, who led the restoration work there in his inimitable and charismatic way. We pay tribute to all he achieved.
All this brings to mind the incredible skill of the British and European artisans who restored Windsor Castle after its own devastating fire thirty years ago.
It shows us, perhaps, that history is not something to be consigned to a shelf, gathering dust, seldom to be revisited; rather history is something alive and man-made; our identity and sense of meaning maintained by living traditions, to which we constantly add new chapters; a guide not just to the past, but to the present, drawing timeless threads between generations.
As neighbours, we have long been fascinated by one another, and our cultural heritage derives more from one another than we might realize. The first restaurants in Paris, for instance, were modelled on British taverns, and as it happens one of the most famous was called “La Grande Taverne de Londres…” which would be a greater source of pride if it were not that their success was based on French food, French wine and French chefs! We did however provide a grateful clientele both in France, and in London. And you have a very grateful British diner this evening!
Mr President, our nations’ long history has been written by countless extraordinary men and women, from Guillaume le Conquérant to ‘Big Moustache’ of La Grande Vadrouille; and from Eleanor of Aquitaine to the late, great, Jane Birkin, la plus française des britanniques, who both on screen and off, have helped to define our common destiny.
Today, our countries stand together against oppression and in support of the most vulnerable, including those who suffer the devastating impact of natural disaster or conflict – whether in Ukraine, in Libya and in Morocco.
Together, we strive to protect and restore our natural world and to combat the existential threat of global warming and climate change. On this, Mr. President, I wholeheartedly share the view you expressed at the One Planet Summit last year, when you spoke of how a more sustainable world can both preserve our heritage, and provide future opportunity – to encourage our businesses, our governments and our people to work together as rapidly as possible to ensure that our energy and our finance is directed where it can have the most impact. Tomorrow, we shall meet together with business leaders from France and Britain, whose innovations and investments are supporting that vision, investing in clean growth and to preserve our precious biodiversity.
Our two countries are also working together to build opportunity for the next generation. As I have sought to encourage through the Prince’s Trust I established some forty-seven years ago, marvellous things can result when young people are empowered to fulfil their potential. Tomorrow, my wife and I will see this in action at Saint Denis, where the Rugby World Cup is inspiring new generations to take up sport, thanks to partnerships with community groups such as “Sport Dans la Ville” and “Objectif Emploi”, amongst others. As for the World Cup itself, whatever the result of the tournament – on which I will simply say, diplomatically, “May the best team win!” – we can all surely agree that you deserve all our thanks for the magnificent tournament you are hosting with such panache, in cities the length and breadth of this beautiful country.
In all of these efforts, on and off the field, as so often in our history, we must persevere. As a master craftsman shapes each stone to play its part, so must each of our endeavours build upon the last, rising from foundations laid by those who came before. Working together, with ambition and determination, who knows how far we can reach.
By protecting our precious planet, and by fostering security, opportunity and hope, we will continue to grow together – strong, vital, prosperous.
Mr. President, in all of this we can rely on our firm friendship, which is renewed and reinvigorated with each new generation.
I would like if you would allow me, to raise a toast to President and Madame Macron and tothe French people, as well as to our Entente Cordiale – a sustainable alliance. Whatever lies ahead, may it endure, faithful and constant, for centuries to come.