The Cheering Tale of Chris Evans and the Duchess of Cornwall
Chris Evans Proved To Be a Brilliant Communicator at the 500 Words Competition, Says Gillian Reynolds in Her Weekly Radio Review

The Telegraph, 3 June 2015       See photos       Watch a video
By Gillian Reynolds

‘Kids, take over. Prowl around. It’s OK with the Duchess. Would you like to meet the Duchess?”

Chris Evans was in full-throated flight on Radio 2 last Friday morning in St James’s Palace, at the invitation of the Duchess of Cornwall, with live bands, star guests and an audience full of children and parents for the final of the fifth 500 Words competition. There were 120,421 entries this year, a record. The prizes are lots of books, for the winners, for their schools. 500 Words was a brilliant idea and, I am reliably informed, Evans’s own. The response has been astonishing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding,” said Evans as we approached the finale and the top winners. “Children, stand on your chairs. You have royal permission to do this…” and then he introduced the Duchess. I was trying to imagine how I would feel if there were kids standing on my chairs and trailing cables everywhere as he asked the Duchess what difference having the show at the palace had made to her morning?

“Made it much, much jollier,” she said, adding that she’d been “dancing away upstairs” to the band (The Vamps). By this time the show had been on air for two hours. I doubt I’d have been dancing and feeling jolly with all that racket downstairs, which is probably why I’ll never be a duchess.

Kenneth Branagh read the first Gold winner, Fight for Life by Sofia Zambuto, aged nine, and perfectly managed its mounting sense of drama (flight, threat, dead bodies, flood) before achieving its comic twist (the creatures in peril were nits) and the triumphant last line, “We would survive. And multiply.”

Jeremy Irons read the other Gold story, It’s a Wide World by Amabel Smith, aged 10, about a government regulating against obesity, a girl who goes running, wonders if someone is watching her. There is, but its author again transformed apprehension into a happy end. As this show did to me.

I started early, dreading the circus, the shouting, Will Young’s dreary ballads. I ended thinking what marvels Evans’s passion to communicate had wrought – royal participation, a great competition, well-crafted and entertaining stories read with care by star readers (Barney Harwood’s cockney pigeon was a wonder) and a show that inspired, entertained, exhilarated.

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