Aruna and I warmly welcome you to our annual gathering. This is a special year, it is the 25th occasion since we began in 1994. This gathering is one of remembrance, and my gratitude to our daughter Ambika, who passed away fifty one years ago at the age of four. Ambika was an exceptionally brave little girl who endured her tragic illness with great fortitude. She was an angelic presence whose aura has sustained me. Whatever I have been able to accomplish is largely because of these blessings. In her last days, she got much happiness from visiting this zoo and sharing its ambience. This is why a part of the zoo is appropriately named the Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo, and has a special place in our hearts.
This is also an occasion of remembrance… several of you sense, it was huge loss to all those who would have been enriched by his potential. Angad was our only child not born in India, but India was always close to his heart, and he was very proud of his heritage.
I would like to say a word about the zoo. As you look around, it is evident how much we owe to the management and staff who maintain it. They deserve our thanks for their hard work and dedication and also for the arrangements they have made today. The zoo is operated by the Zoological Society of London, which is a globally renowned organization in the areas of preserving natural habitats, wildlife, ecological and scientific research. I have been associated with the Society for over thirty years and was deeply honoured to be awarded an Honorary Fellowship earlier this year. The work it does and has done for over two hundred years is an inspiration to all who care about the world of nature and the environment we live in.
In my view, the zoo is the best place for parents and children to enjoy being with each other. Over my thirty year association, I have enjoyed coming with my children, including holding Angad’s wedding here. I have now decided to give £1 million to the zoo for its next major project, the redevelopment of the Snowdon Aviary and the surrounding area, which will be called the Angad Paul African Reserve. Dominic Jermey – the Director General and his team are working very hard to open it next year.
When I come to the zoo, it is always a walk with memory. There are people who come to mind as a support in difficult times. Foremost among them was the late Michael Foot, at one time leader of the Labour Party, a great public servant and political leader of rare principle. He and his wife Jill were very close to us and some of you may recall how often he joined us here. As Aruna and I thank all of you, old friends and new friends, for coming to our event, I would like to especially thank our very dear friend, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his gracious wife Sarah and their children. They have attended almost every gathering over the last 25 years. Even more, they have been so supportive in sad times, their thoughtfulness and understanding have helped us to cope with life’s afflictions. Gordon, as I look around, all I can say is that today more than ever, the country misses you. Before I conclude, there are two sentiments I must share. Aruna and I have received so much love and support from our children and grandchildren. They are such a source of strength to us and we want them to know how much we care for and need them.
The best for the last. For 62 years, I have been the luckiest man on earth. Aruna has been a partner whose strength and steadfastness has sustained me. Nobody could ask for more and that is surely the best blessing of all.
It is a great pleasure to see you here today, and to share once again our memories of Ambika and Angad.