After being a first-round judge for the last four years, I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the live final in the ballot. The competition (which is supported by the Oxford University Press) has been running for 8 years and attracted a record-breaking 135,000 entries this year. As there was high security and the event would be broadcast live on Chris Evans’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show, we had to be there at 5.30am. This meant a 3.30am start and an hour’s drive as the trains didn’t run at that time. Once there and going into the venue, everyone chatted with each other and there was an exciting atmosphere. We took our seats outdoors in the courtyard and were entertained by a jester until Chris Evans arrived.
The four author judges were there – Charlie Higson, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Francesca Simon. We were entertained also by the singer John Newman, the group Bastille, Alexandra Burke and the London Community Gospel Choir. Each of the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners were announced and the celebrity readers were introduced. There was a winner in each age group 5-9yrs and 10-13 yrs. Dara O’Briain and Jason Isaacs read the Bronze award stories. Jim Broadbent (this story was in my batch of stories to be marked) and Amanda Abingdon read the Silver award stories. David Walliams and Shobna Gulati read the Gold award stories.
The special guest arrived after the Silver stories had been read. Chris Evans drove her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall into the Palace courtyard in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. She gave a short speech and the final winners were revealed. The 6 winners were then taken for a ride in ‘Chitty’ around the Palace grounds, driven by Chris Evans himself and accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall. The celebrity readers and authors were driven off in a carriage pulled by two horses. The 2016 Bake Off winner Candice Brown was also there. She had baked a special cake for the winners to enjoy at their tea party later after they had been for a trip down the River Thames on ‘Gloriana’ the Queen’s rowing barge.
All of us that had attended the event were then invited to enjoy visiting the Palace and grounds for the rest of the day as guests. It was a lovely experience to be a part of and it was even more special to me that a story I had ranked high, had gone on to be a Silver winner.