The Hon. Edwina Sandys MBE and Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill MBE were presented the English-Speaking Union Founder's Award on April 27 for their roles in helping to launch the English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition 32 years ago. Immediately following the 2015 ESU National Shakespeare Competition at Lincoln Center Theater, the awards were presented at a festive reception and dinner in the Crystal Room of the Empire Hotel.
Danny Lopez, Her Majesty's Consul General in New York, served as Honorary Chairman of the event committee. Unable to attend in person, he was represented by Nick Astbury, Deputy Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission.
In 1983, while headmaster of the Anglo American School in New York, Paul Beresford-Hill conceived a Shakespeare competition to be a part of the Britain Salutes New York festival. The festival committee accepted his proposal, and Edwina Sandys, a committee member and granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, authorized its funding. Envisioning and hoping that the ESU might continue the competition into the future, Paul asked us to host the competition. 500 New York City students participated. The final round was held at ESU Headquarters with actress Celeste Holm among the judges. Subsequently, the ESU, under the guidance and perseverance of Alice Boyne, who later became its Executive Director and President, developed and expanded the competition through its network of Branches to be its flagship national educational program. It has benefitted more than 275,000 students to date.
Participating in the festive Founder's Award dinner were the first, second and third-place winners of the 2015 English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition, high school students Sarah Spalding from Hawaii, Evelyn Johnson from Philadelphia and Elizabeth Mears from Boston.
Receiving the award, Dr. Beresford-Hill said, "I am both humbled and honored by this award and accept it on behalf of the quarter million American high school students whose lives have been touched during the past 32 years by the National Shakespeare Competition administered by the ESU." Ms. Sandys commented, "I am happy to be on the platform again with Paul. Working together on the 1983 Britain Salutes New York Festival proved to be one of "our finest hours." As you know, my grandfather, Winston Churchill, considered himself to be an English-Speaking Union – English father and American mother. I also think of myself as an English-Speaking Union. My life has been a tale of two cities, half in London and half in New York…English is not just the language of Shakespeare and Churchill, it is also the language of engineering and air travel, trade manuals – you name it! The English-Speaking Union is therefore more than a cultural and convivial get-together club. It can only be a benefit to the pursuit of peace."