The Queen was all smiles tonight as she presented her old friend Sir David Attenborough with a top international award, moments after her son the Duke of York announced he was stepping back from public life. The monarch, 93, arrived at Chatham House just 24 minutes after Buckingham Palace issued the bombshell statement from Prince Andrew following days of media scrutiny over his friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
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She showed no sign of strain and seemed delighted to present Sir David and Julian Hector, head of the BBC Natural History Unit, with the Chatham House Prize for 2019 for their work to highlight ocean plastic pollution. Her visit to the Royal Institute for International Affairs had not been announced in advance there were gasps of surprise and delight as she was introduced to the audience in the packed Joseph Gaggero Hall.
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The Queen with Sir David Attenborough on Wednesday evening
And there was laughter as she told the TV legend: "Sir David, this award recognises your many talents and one can’t help but feel that, for those of us of a certain generation, we can take great pleasure in proving age is no barrier to being a positive influence."
In her speech, the Queen said: "As Patron of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, I am delighted that members have awarded this year’s Chatham House Prize to Sir David Attenborough and the Blue Planet II team." She told the veteran naturalist: "Your ability to communicate the beauty and vulnerability of our natural environment remains unequalled as you – and your team – have engaged and enthused many people, young and old, to appreciate and preserve our world’s oceans. For that we should all be thankful. I congratulate you and all involved in this endeavour."
The pair were all smiles at the event
Accepting the award, Sir David said: “Never has there been a greater need for international cooperation on international solutions. They won’t be easy to win. Politicians have to look to the people who elect them who assume that they will be number one on the list. That cannot remain to be so. We are citizens of the world and they must recognise that. And international cooperation, which is the subject of this organisation is of paramount importance. If this international organisation considers what we have done in the Natural History Unit has in some way helped spread an awareness of the problems that face the world, that in some way will convince the population of the world that we all belong to one world and just the one world belongs to us, then this award pleases me more than I can say, I am most grateful for it, thank you.”
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Welcoming the monarch, Chatham House director Dr Robin Niblett, told her: "We are honoured that you were able to join us for this today, the 15th award of the Chatham House Prize. We are all the more grateful that you join us on the evening of your 72nd wedding anniversary."
The Queen, wearing a pale pink suit by Angela Kelly, beamed as the audience applauded. Later, as she signed the visitors’ book, she asked Dr Niblett: “What’s the date?” When he told her it was November 20, she laughed and said: “Well, of course, I know what the date is!” Adding her signature to the book, she joked: “Now, well that proves I came here.”
Before leaving, she met sixth form politics and government students from All Saints Catholic School and Technology College in Dagenham, who were visiting the institute as part of an outreach programme. She asked them about their studies and whether they had watched Sir David’s series. “It must be very interesting to come here and see and listen to what is going on,” she remarked. Headteacher Clare Cantle said afterwards: “It was an honour. I’m so proud of our young people. This is a wonderful opportunity.”
The annual prize recognises the person, people or organisation deemed to have made the most significant contribution to improving international relations in the previous year. Sir David and the BBC were honoured for "the galvanising impact of the Blue Planet II series on tackling ocean plastic pollution." The Blue Planet II series highlighted the damage caused by discarded plastics to the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. It is estimated that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans; resulting in the deaths of 1 million birds and 100,000 sea mammals each year.
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