The Royal Anniversary Trust Dinner
It’s a freezing cold, late February evening and we are at the Guildhall City of London with 400 other guests for a dinner celebrating the achievements of 21 UK universities and colleges.
The dinner, hosted by The Royal Anniversary Trust, precedes an honours ceremony the next morning at Buckingham Palace, where their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall formally present awards to each institution on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen. The Awards are for a wide range of outstanding research and education provision including the culmination of a 40 year study to raise milk yields through to a project to discover a vaccine against the Ebola virus.
Guests at the dinner included the chancellors and chairs, vice-chancellors and principals of the recipient universities and colleges as well as representatives from academia, business and industry, NGOs and the public sector, government and the media.
The event followed a very traditional British format for an academic dinner in the City of London. The evening commenced with a reception for guests in the Old Library where Chancellors, Vice Chancellors and their college equivalents wore ornate and colourful academic gowns. Once guests had been called for dinner they processed into the Great Hall led by students from the Mid Kent College Frontline Service, accompanied by fanfares from the Band of the Irish Guards and a narration from Alastair Stewart, ITV newscaster and journalist, describing the winning work.
Guests were welcomed by Sir Damon Buffini, Chairman of the Royal Anniversary Trust and Chairman of the National Theatre. The principal speaker was Nobel Prize-winner Sir Paul Nurse FRS, Director of the Francis Crick Institute.
Singers from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama added to the rich pageantry of the evening by performing short choral interludes based on Shakespeare’s works and a splendid finale featuring Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana. The end of the evening was signalled by the haunting sound of a lone piper from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards from the Ministrel’s Gallery.
The highlight of the evening was a superb dinner catered by Seasoned Events who excelled themselves with a wonderful array of dishes which were very much in line with the aim of the prizes scheme – world class and innovative. The courses were served by catering students from a number of colleges. All students, whether catering, front of house or singers, were provided by their colleges – Westminster Kingsway, Canterbury, Waltham Forest and Mid Kent – to provide opportunity to practice vocational skills taught on their training and education programmes.
The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education were established in 1994 with The Queen’s consent and approval and all-party support in Parliament. They are a legacy of the celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen’s 40th Anniversary accession to the throne. A competitive Prizes scheme is run every two years organised by The Royal Anniversary Trust and is open to invitation to some 460 education institutions throughout the nation.