It is usually the Queen who bestows honours on others, but for once, she has been offered an unusual title of her own. Her Majesty has, however, "politely but firmly" turned down a trophy from The Oldie of the Year Awards because she "didn't believe she met the relevant criteria" to accept.
The 95-year-old monarch graciously declined the award, stating that "you are only as old as you feel". Author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, chairman of the awards, wrote to her private secretary Sir Edward Young to ask if she would accept the main Oldie of the Year.
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But in a letter published in the November issue of the magazine, her assistant private secretary Tom Laing-Baker wrote: "Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient."
WATCH: Camilla attends The Oldie of the Year Awards
As she approaches her Platinum Jubilee next year, the Queen has been on sparkling form in recent months, entertaining world leaders, attending the races and mastering the very modern ritual of the video call.
This year, her daughter-in-law the Duchess of Cornwall has joined Gyles Brandreth for the publication's first in-person awards ceremony since 2019 at The Savoy Hotel in London.
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The Queen's reply after rejecting the award
For the past 29 years, The Oldie of The Year Awards has celebrated the achievements of those of the older generation who have made a special contribution to public life. Previous winners have included everyone from Oscar winners to Nobel laureates, from community care nurses to veteran athletes, from Sir John Major to Dame Olivia de Havilland and David Hockney.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday's lunch, Gyles Brandreth said: "We endorse what the Queen says and understand completely, but we are keeping our powder dry and maybe in a decade or so it might be appropriate to try again."
The Queen "politely but firmly" turned down a trophy from The Oldie of the Year Awards
He said that when he approached the late Duke of Edinburgh in 2011 to ask about the possibility of him accepting the title, he wrote back to say: "I much appreciate your invitation to receive an Oldie of the Year award. There is nothing like it for morale to be reminded that the years are passing – ever more quickly – and that bits are beginning to drop off the ancient frame. But it is nice to be remembered at all."
While Camilla received the Oldie Award for Spouse of the Year back in 2006, she is no longer eligible for one of the awards, said Brandreth. He said: "The Duchess is far too young, it's not even remotely possible. It's changed since we began because it's now really people in their 80s and 90s and we've had centenarians, so she genuinely is too young. This is going to be our 30th year. People live longer now. People like me were eligible when it began."
Camilla attends The Oldie of the Year Awards
The Duchess, 74, looked elegant in a navy and white crepe dress by Fiona Clare as she posed for a photograph with this year's winners and chatted to last year's, who were being acknowledged again after a virtual ceremony in 2020. Addressing guests, Camilla said: "There are certain disadvantages to growing old. Those disadvantages were summed up quite neatly in a few lines I came across recently in Gyles Brandreth's autobiography. He quoted a poem by John Sparrow, the warden of All Soul's, Oxford. He wrote a verse he called simply Growing Old.
"He wrote: 'I'm accustomed to my deafness, to my dentures I'm resigned. I can cope with my bifocals, but – o dear! - I miss my mind.' "There are times I know when we all experience those senior moments. But there are advantages to growing older too. Watching your children growing up, enjoying one's grandchildren and knowing that they'll be going home after the visit. Having more time to read, finding time to read the Oldie and coming along to jolly lunches like this one."
Poptastic Oldie of the Year went to broadcaster "Whispering" Bob Harris
Camilla had the task of presenting winners with their framed certificates and was left in fits of giggles as she listened to some of the acceptance speeches. This year's Principal Oldie of the Year went to Leslie Caron, 90, the Oscar-winning star of Gigi and An American in Paris, but the French-born actress was unable to attend in person.
The other winners included Sir Geoff Hurst, 79, awarded the Oldie Golden Boot of the Year and Dame Delia Smith, 80, who took home the award for Truly Scrumptious Oldie of the Year. Poptastic Oldie of the Year went to broadcaster "Whispering" Bob Harris, 75, while Roger McGough, 83, received Oldie People's Poet of the Year.
Dr Mridul Kumar Datta and Dr Saroj Datta, both 81, were joint Oldie NHS Angels of the Year. The married couple, who work alongside each other in their Blackburn GP practice have notched up more than 110 years of service to the NHS and continued to work full-time throughout the pandemic.
Camilla posed with the winners afterwards
Margaret Seaman, 92, was crowned Oldie Champion Knitter of the Year after creating an 18-foot-long knitted model of Sandringham, currently on display at the Queen's Norfolk estate, to raise funds for local hospitals. Speaking to her ahead of the ceremony, Camilla told her: "We were so impressed." Margaret said of the Duchess: "She was lovely, she was very interested and she has actually been to see it while it was on display at Sandringham. She just said it was wonderful. Being here is absolutely terrific, it's like a dream."
Barry Humphries' fictional character Sir Les Patterson, 79, was awarded the Wizard from Oz Oldie of the Year in a wry celebration of services to his nation's culture for over 50 years. The actor slipped into character to read what he described as an "inappropriate" message from the spoof diplomat, opening with a loud belch.
Notable guests included 2020 winners: Lady Anne Glenconner, 89, lady-in-waiting and author; Chelsea Pensioner Colin Thackery, 91-year-old winner of Britain's Got Talent 2019; veteran Coronation Street star William Roache, 89, and Roger Law, 80, ceramicist and puppeteer and a co-creator of Spitting Image.
Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since the soap's very first episode, told Camilla about the Queen's recent visit to Wetherfield, saying: "She made our day, she was a ray of sunshine on the street." And he joked about the Prince of Wales's appearance on the soap, saying: "He was a natural – he played himself."
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