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Speech at London’s Guildhall for St David’s Day: ‘Do the Little Things’

London’s Guildhall. Friday March 01st, 2024. Delivering the St David’s Day toast

Diolch yn fawr – thank you for inviting me to celebrate St David’s Day with you – I am here with Dr David Price Williams – my much-loved uncle, only slightly less saintly but someone who also helps burnish my Welsh credentials.

When Peter asked me to raise the toast in front of such a prestigious Welsh audience – I felt I had to tell him that although welsh in DNA, I was actually the first person in 350 years in our family to be born in England.

My parents – the first to ever leave Wales – had come to London. Dad had been a journalist on the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, Mum was training to be a nurse at St Mary’s hospital, Paddington – and that’s where I was born.

Felt like I was letting the side down until my Mum pointed out that Paddington is the fastest route home. 

I am then, London Welsh and very proud of it too. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a GP from Llanelli, a rugby player for Cardiff and a chairman of the Scarlets. My brothers and I were introduced to the delights of Stradey Park, tutored in the finer points of the best sport and always knew which side to support. My children now can sing the Welsh national anthem, my 17-year-old is learning the language. It’s in your bones and your blood and you pass that pride on. 

I discovered the origins of our welsh heritage when me, my dad and my brothers filmed a programme for BBC Wales called coming home.

We discovered that our 4x great grandfather, William Davies, had a farm in the Rhondda. The marquis of Bute – the opener of Cardiff castle – wanted to buy the farm and offered him £9k – a fortune in those days – more than a million pounds today. He turned him down. 

The marquis returned and increased the offer. Eventually, William sold the farm in 1845 for the equivalent of one and a half million pounds. The Marquis bulldozed the farm and drilled below the land – where he discovered, as he expected – steam coal, the welsh gold of the Industrial Revolution. 

He renamed the village Treherbert and the Bute Merthyr colliery was the first steam coal colliery in the Rhondda. The Marquis once employed nearly a thousand men there, developed the Cardiff docks to transport the coal and reportedly became the richest man in the world. 

My Dad, discovering this, a Welshman and a true journalist, asked the question – ‘where’s all our money?’ We were told we would have been as rich as Croesus. But it was not to be. William opened a school and some alms houses with the proceeds. A good man then – and I’m grateful for all my Welsh ancestors, who have followed st David’s advice to be joyful, keep the faith amd do the little things in life.

My grandfather on my father’s side, David’s father, was a preacher and minister. And I’d like to end with his words – from a sermon he wrote during WWII, after the Swansea blitz, where, my father recalled, the noise was so loud it shook the house, where the fear was so great, it rendered him mute for 3 months.

This is from the sermon my Taid delivered to the Argyle Chapel in Swansea. It’s about keeping sensitive to the loveliness that’s around us, even in the most difficult of times.

‘The quiet trees, the fragrant grass, the ever-changing skies, the song of birds = keep the window of your soul ever open to these. Speaking from my own experience, as I now look back, I shall never forget the sense of peace and strength that came to me after a night of terror and cruelty when our town was bombed for several hours; for the following day, we, as a family, went into the country on a bus, the green fields, the winding lanes, the grazing sheep, the lazy cows, the hills that looked so steadfast, these all contributed something to bring to us a sense of the goodness of life. It was like entering into a new world, and yet such an old world, such a sure world, a world that would remain quiet and beautiful when the horrors of modern civilisation has passed away. ‘

So – on this St David’s Day, and with the world full of a different tumult, let us look to the little things – the daffodils blooming, the days lightening – and to tonight – and the joy of good food, company and conversation.

Dwdd Gwyl Dewi Hapus – Happy St David’s Day – let’s raise our glasses – think of the little things and toast St David.