Camilla: 'I Spend My Life Reading Books'

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The Duchess of Cornwall chats to TFL staff
The Duchess of Cornwall chats to TFL staff

The Duchess of Cornwall and author Tony Parsons today met Transport for London (TfL) employees who are taking part in a course to improve their English.

Camilla and Parsons joined TfL staff in reading extracts from the author's novel, Beyond The Bounty.

The author penned the book for the charity Quick Reads, which supports the TfL course called Improve Your English.

Camilla told the class that it was very nice to be with them and enthused about how much she loves reading in her spare time.

She said: "I spend my life reading to my grandchildren, trying to get them to concentrate. It takes you completely out of yourself.

"You can forget about everything else and bury yourself in a book."

TfL runs the classes at its HQ in London, which are open to all employees who want to improve their confidence and ability with spoken and written English.

Quick Reads was launched by the book trade in 2006 in response to a government report that revealed 12 million people in the UK have literacy difficulties, while one third of the population never picks up a book.

Camilla, who acknowledged that it was "nerve wrecking" to read aloud and said the people who did so were "so brave", is Patron of The National Literacy Trust, the Wicked Young Writers' Award, Booktrust and First Story.

She said: "You can tell from all of you that you really enjoy it."

Parsons is just one of the authors involved with Quick Reads and has contributed by penning a short novel especially geared towards those who may be dyslexic, a stranger to books, or have simply fallen out of the habit of reading.

This month sees the launch of the charity's "fall in love with reading" campaign, with a line-up of eight books from authors such as Lynda La Plante, Maeve Binchy, Conn Iggulden and Parsons.

Speaking about the charity and the campaign, Parsons said: "It's a campaign that will never end and it's a campaign that we can feel that we are winning."

Parsons said that although he came from a relatively poor family, there were always books in the house. He added that to deny your children that privilege is "like sending your your child to school with no shoes on".

With statistics suggesting that a lot of people are not reading books nowadays, Parsons rubbished the notion that it is due to distractions such as the internet, computer games or mobile phones.

"There was plenty of things clamouring for my attentions when I was a lad too."

He added: "It's a natural impulse to love stories. It's the most natural thing in the world."

The author said the idea that so many adults have never opened a book is like "cultural apartheid", adding: "It's about breaking the cycle of a lack of opportunity."

Nzinga Okera, a station assistant with TfL who joined the company's class nine years ago, is dyslexic and found herself reading an extract from Parsons' novel today in front of Camilla.

She said she was very nervous but believed that a visit from a member of the Royal Family was important.

"It shows that, even if you don't associate with them, having a conversation on a one-to-one level - I can see that actually we're not that different.

"It is important for someone from the royals or someone from that circle to see that - us reading."

Robert Howard, an infrastructure controller at TfL, said that as a dyslexic he was made to feel like a "dunce" at school.

Speaking about his school days, he said: "You were just a dunce, weren't you? You were pushed to the back of the class."

He compared joining the class and going public with his dyslexia to his workmates to a homosexual person coming out as gay.

Mr Howard said he took heart from the number of famous people who are dyslexic and added that, despite his dyslexia being overlooked at school, he has done well in life.

"I'm good at debating, I'm good at negotiating, but get me to write it down and I've got problems," he said.

Kathy Gale, project director at Quick Reads, said: "Quick Reads are designed for people who have lost the reading habit for whatever reason, maybe they think it's for posh people or that it's because they read big books at school."

Speaking about Camilla's attendance at the event today, she said: "She comes to an event like this and talks to people and it makes them feel good about themselves. She is very, very warm - there isn't really a sense of distance."