Camilla praises the power of words after 'challenging year' as she opens Hay Festival

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The Duchess of Cornwall praised "the power of words to offer hope in our darkest times" as she opened the Hay Festival on Wednesday evening.

Camilla, 73, who works with several literacy charities, spoke of her own love for the annual book festival as it runs online throughout the end of May and beginning of June.

She said: "For over 30 years, Hay has been bringing readers and writing together at sustainable events, reaching more than five million people, of all ages, across five continents.

"I am one of those five million – and I absolutely love the Hay Festival.

"Over the past 10 years, I have been lucky enough to attend three times.

"Each occasion has been unique, thanks to the endless creativity of the directors and staff."

Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, wearing a face covering to combat the spread of Covid-19, meets pupils from Eden Girls' School during her visit to Coventry Central Library in Coventry, central England on May 25, 2021. (Photo by Joe Giddens / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JOE GIDDENS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Camilla with pupils from Eden Girls' School during her visit to Coventry Central Library. (Joe Giddens/AFP)

She recalled one occasion when she "suffered the shame of being roundly beaten by school children in a game of giant chess".

The duchess added: "But every Hay Festival, wherever and however it takes place, has in common one purpose: to inspire, examine and entertain.

"From personal experience, I can say that Hay more than achieves this aim, because of the brilliant people who come together to debate, to challenge, to thank and to celebrate.

"I am quite sure that tonight will be no exception, even if we are, sadly, unable to be together in person."

Watch: Camilla reads to small children during library visit

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Camilla launched her own reading room, almost like a book club, on Instagram earlier this year after the supportive feedback on her book recommendations during the various coronavirus lockdowns.

In the message launching the free gala event at the beginning of the Hay Festival, Camilla read an extract from A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles, one of this season's choices for the reading room.

She praised the theme of the gala - “the power of words to offer hope in our darkest times” – saying it could “hardly be more appropriate”.

She said: "We are now emerging from what has been a tremendously challenging year.

"We've all drawn enormous comfort from others' words, whether in a telephone call from a supportive neighbour, a letter from a much-missed grandchild or in books old and new."

Camilla has shared her love of reading on several of her engagements as she and her husband Prince Charles get out and about with the easing of restrictions.

On a trip to Coventry she read The Very Hungry Caterpillar during a library visit and in Northern Ireland she met the Camilla Club - a book group following her initiative and named after her.

The digital Hay Festival will take place over 12 days from 26 May to 6 June and includes guests like Tony Blair who will be interviewed by former spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

Kate Winslet and Benjamin Zephaniah are also on the festival bill.