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Leonor presents Princess of Asturias Awards

This time in October marks an important one in Spain, one that sees the eyes of the world turn to the small principality in the north of Spain that gives its name to the heir to the throne. 

Princess Leonor has made her way back to Spain for her autumn break, in time for the Princess of Asturias Awards; she moved to Wales at the end of August to carry out her last two years of high school at UWC Atlantic College.

Following the traditional concert held in the Príncipe Felipe Auditorium the previous evening, Friday, 22 October, was the day the main events took place: a reception for all prize recipients in the morning and the awards ceremony in the evening. 

© Casa de SM el Rey

Around 12:30 pm, the Royal Family made their entrance in the Covadonga Hall, inside the Reconquista Hotel, to hand out the Asturias medals awarded on 8 September (Asturias Day) and to hold a reception with the Princess of Asturias Award laureates.

With health safety measures still in place and everyone wearing face masks, staying six feet apart and avoid shaking hands, the royals welcomed all the award winners in the principality. 

However, the main event was the award ceremony. Shortly after 6:30 pm, the Royal Family arrived at Campoamor Theatre in three distinct vehicles: one transported the King and Queen, one was for Queen Emerita Sofía and the last dedicated to Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofía. They were welcomed by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, which was quite substantial despite the bad weather. 

After a year of disruptions to the traditional development of the event due to health safety restrictions, in 2021 the prizes returned to their historic quarters: the Campoamor Theatre, which has undergone some renovation work during the shutdown (for example, the chairs that the Royal Family used during the ceremony were refurbished, going from granate red to royal blue).

The royals then made their way inside the theatre, where they were welcomed by state and local authorities and the President and other members of the Princess of Asturias Foundation. 

While Queen Sofía made her way up to the Royal Box, King Felipe, Queen Letizia, Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofía sat on stage. Among the participants was the Queen’s mother, Paloma Rocasolano, a regular attendant of the event. It was also the first year in which the prizes were held without the presence of Menchú Álvarez Del Valle, the Queen’s paternal grandmother, who passed away in July.

Following an interpretation of the Spanish national anthem by a delegation of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Oviedo, His Majesty declared the ceremony open and gave the microphone to the President of the Princess of Asturias Foundation, who remarked on the importance of a slow return to normalcy and highlighted the strong historical ties between the principality and the Crown.

There were other remarks by Mr Emmanuel Carrère, the laureate for writing, who thanked his entire entourage and described the feelings he got by watching the court proceedings for those responsible for the terrorist attacks in France; Ms Gloria Steinem, laureate for communication and humanities, who talked about the mixed emotions she had as a feminism activist during the Trump presidency and the hope the new generation is giving her; and Ms Teresa Perales, the laureate for sports, who remarked on the changes society has undergone over the past few years regarding disability, accessibility and the integration within society of disabled people, as well as finishing with a warm invitation to everyone like her to at leat try to do what they dream. 

It was then time to hand out the actual prizes, which marked one of the most significant differences. For the first time, King Felipe did not stand with his daughter to hand out the awards, but remained seated, while the young Princess smiled wide under her mask and passed on the diplomas to the laureates. In a touching moment, the public gave a spontaneous standing ovation to the seven laureates for scientific and technological research, all of whom have been involved in developing the COVID-19 vaccines. The Princess of Asturias Award for Arts went to Serbian artist Marina Abramovic, and the Award for Social Sciences went to Amartya Sen, who was not present for the ceremony.

© Casa de SM el Rey

It was then Mr José Andrés’s turn to speak, the winner of the International Cooperation award, who, after thanking his wife, remarked that the power of a plate of food is not just to nourish someone who’s hungry, but is also a way to show them respect and dignity, which is the power of a plate of food, and the mission behind World Central Kitchen.

He was followed by Ms Katalin Karikó, one of the seven laureates who this year share the award for scientific and technological research, who acknowledged the work of so many other scientists in the development of life saving vaccines, as well as thanking frontline workers for giving so much hope and restless work. 

His Majesty then happily ceded the stage to Princess Leonor, who gave a speech highlighting the power of education, and the hope all laureates give the younger generation to “have the opportunity to be important and show ourselves responsible for attempting to think of a more sustainable, more just and better future for everyone.”

She also remarked that all laureates made her even more determined to continue her education and that she will go back to Wales “with the memory of another award ceremony that moves and emotes us, and I will miss this land, Asturias, which I love so much and in which my sister Sofía and I always feel at home.”

King Felipe then gave his remarks, opening with a touching tribute to the victims of the  devastating volcanic eruption of La Palma island, saying, “They asked us not to forget them, and, together with the whole of the Spanish population, so it will be: we will not forget them.”

The monarch then stressed the importance of community, of shared values and of finding common ground, all things that, in his words, are reflected in the actions of the laureates. He said: “The pandemic gave us lessons of great teaching value. […]; it made us understand that, only by working together, for the common good of everyone, it is possible to face the most difficult situations and come out of them victorious,” adding “at the same time, Spain filled with big and small gestures of thousands of citizens. They showed that gratitude, the engagement with others, the sense of citizenship, the service to the community or the loyalty to our country are basic pillars of a society that is capable of surpassing itself; of a society in which, if we are immune to other people’s sufferings, we will be alone in our pain.”

He finished his speech saying: “That gaze in which healthcare workers tried to find the strength and courage to carry on, that ever so encouraging gaze, in which dwelled courage, affection and gratitude, must remain with us.”

© Casa de SM el Rey

Following the sovereign’s speech, the traditional bagpipes of the City of Oviedo Royal Bagpipe Band played the anthem of the Principality of Asturias, during which Chef José Andrés could be seen singing (he is a native of the principality) together with the royals, then a march that signalled the exit of the laureates. King Felipe then declared the 2022 prizes as convened and closed the event before making his way off the stage with Queen Letizia on his arm and his two daughters following closely behind. 

Once in the theatre foyer, and while they waited for Queen Sofía to make her way down, the royals spoke briefly with the authorities present for the event before reemerging from the theatre to a cheering crowd in heavy rain. King Felipe decided to briefly ditch his umbrella to acknowledge the crowds before taking his place in the car where Queen Letizia was waiting for him.

In an unusual gesture, she lowered her car window to wave to the crowds while the royals made their way back to La Reconquista Hotel, where they will spend the night and prepare for Saturday’s trip to Santa María del Puerto, which was selected as the recipient for the Asturias Exemplary Village award for 2021. 

The Princess of Asturias Awards is currently among the most respected award schemes on the globe, with the nominations being made by the public for people and organisations all over the world and evaluated by a jury of experts that changes every year. The prize consists of 50000€, a diploma and a Joan Mirò statue. 

2021 marked the 41st edition of the awards, which are named after the heir to the throne, meaning that they were first called the Princess of Asturias Awards only in 2015, previously bearing the name of Prince of Asturias. Princess Leonor only took part in the prizes for the first time in 2019, when she also gave her first speech.