Royal Visit to France: Institute in Paris Students at Prix de l’Entente Littéraire Reception
As part of the state visit of Their Majesties to France, four University of London Institute in Paris students, alongside its CEO Tim Gore, were invited to attend a reception at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France to mark the inauguration of the Prix de l’Entente Littéraire. Hosting the event, Her Majesty the Queen and Madame Macron outlined a shared love of literature, after which the guests enjoyed a guided tour of the library and its collection of rare editions and antiquities. Hear about the experience first-hand from Ella de Verteuil and Edie Young.
On the 21st September, along with three of my third-year classmates and our CEO, Tim Gore, I attended a reception celebrating Franco-British cultural ties, as well as marking the launch of the Franco-British literary prize, the Entente Littéraire Prize. The event was hosted by Her Majesty the Queen and Madame Brigitte Macron at the Bibliothèque National de France (BNF) in the 2nd arrondissement. It was my first time at an official event like this and it was a great honour to have a guided tour of the BNF after the speeches given by the Queen and Madame Macron.
After a hectic and very rainy journey with no umbrella, I arrived just on time at 9:45am with a scarf over my head to protect my hair somewhat. We went through security and went into the Salle Ovale, where there was coffee and breakfast for the guests. In the beautiful library we met British Council students, academics, historians, authors and other guests, including Celia Imrie, the British actress. We looked at a first edition copy of Voltaire’s Candide with the BNF’s historian, which we had coincidentally studied in first year.
My classmates and I were right at the front of the crowds as the Queen and Madame Macron arrived and began their speeches, with the Queen commencing and finishing in French, first jokingly apologising for her ‘slightly rusty’ French. She mentioned her time studying at the British Institute, which is now the University of London Institute in Paris, over sixty years ago. She spoke about the Entente Littéraire prize, which will celebrate authors of young adult fiction across both countries. The prize aims to allow British and French citizens to share joint literary experiences, ‘reinforcing cultural ties whilst celebrating the joy of reading.’ The Queen hoped that the prize will prove Victor Hugo wrong, as he said that Britain only had two works, the Bible and Shakespeare; where in reality both countries share a wealth of literary treasure.
Madame Macron then gave her speech in French, mentioning her love of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when she was younger. She spoke about the perfection of every phrase, and the joy it instilled in her. She said that a day without reading for the Queen and herself was very rare, and she hoped that the prize will encourage a love of literature among more young people. My classmates and I all do the French Studies major, which is particularly literature heavy in some modules, so it's safe to say we all felt at home in the library. The Queen and Madame Macron then came down off the podium and began greeting the guests, which was slightly chaotic with everyone shoving up to the front to shake their hands. I managed to speak to Madame Macron but the bodyguards moved me aside before I could introduce myself to the Queen. I had never been to any event of this nature, and there was a definite sense of desperation in the crowd to greet Her Majesty, with my toes getting trodden on many times! The Queen and Madame Macron were then whisked off to their next engagement, and the guests were left feeling a bit bewildered, asking ‘is that it?’. The organisation went out of the window as soon as they arrived but all in all it was a successful event.
We then had a guided tour of the library and the new exhibitions, which was my favourite part. We were taught about the ornate rooms, and the priceless antiquities by the same humorous historian which showed us the first edition of Candide. It was a lovely visit and I feel very lucky to be able to have seen the BNF, which is not usually all open to the public, as well as been able to meet the Queen and Madame Macron. I felt proud to represent my university, which is in itself, a very good example of the Franco-British ties.
On Monday I received an email from the British Ambassador inviting me to a reception with Her Majesty the Queen and Madame Brigitte Macron. The reception was held to celebrate Anglo-French connections and to establish a new Franco-British literary prize, borne from these influential women’s shared love of literature.
As a third-year British student living in France I was thrilled at the prospect of attending this literary event, and unbelievably excited to potentially meet both the Queen and the Première Dame!
I arrived at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in the pouring rain on Thursday morning and met up with fellow students Alex, Jack and Ella, and ULIP CEO Dr Tim Gore. We were all buzzing with anticipation and, after multiple security checks, found ourselves in the magnificent Salle Ovale, with book-filled walls, towering columns, and a glass-domed ceiling. As we mingled with other guests and helped ourselves to tea and cake, we spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Celia Imrie was attending the reception on her way to Nice and we all quickly found excuses to start up a conversation with her. Ella and I even managed to get a photo of the three of us together!
Tim introduced us to one of the historians working at the BNF who promptly showed us the original manuscripts of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris and Voltaire’s Candide which the library has in its collection. We were told about the novels’ histories, and how the BNF came to obtain these eminent works. This was particularly riveting since I had studied Candide in my first year at ULIP, and was eager to hear more about its conception.
Queen Camilla and Madame Macron appeared on stage after half an hour and delivered wonderful speeches, both speaking in English and French about their personal connections with literature and the ties between Britain and France. I felt so honoured to be present at these speeches which seemed to target my own interests so closely.
After speaking, the distinguished women were led into the crowd by their security team, providing the guests with the opportunity to meet and converse with them. We were keen to speak to both the Queen and Madame Macron, but it was challenging making our way through the throng of people. We were, however, close enough to touch both women, which was exhilarating.
As the minutes passed, though, I felt slightly disappointed that I wasn’t going to actually speak to either of the women I had been so excited about meeting. Then, miraculously, Madame Macron turned towards us.
Tim introduced himself in French and presented me to the First Lady. I told her I was enchantée to meet her, and that her speech was wonderful, before explaining that I was a student at the same university which the Queen had attended 60 years previously. Madame Macron complimented me on my French and asked if I was enjoying my studies. I told her I absolutely was, and thanked her for the opportunity to attend the reception.
Queen Camilla and Madame Macron were escorted out of the room shortly after, and the guests were offered a private tour of the museum upstairs. The historian giving the tour showed us Charlemagne’s chess set, the bloodstained book Jean-Paul Marat was reading when he was assassinated in his bathtub, and the ancient medallions and jewellery in themuseum’s collection.
I found the morning incredibly enriching from both a literary and cultural perspective, and even had the pleasure of meeting the President of the Republic’s wife! It was a momentous occasion, and an incredibly special day which I will remember for the rest of my life.