This year the GREAT Britain campaign, which promotes the best of Britain across the world, is celebrating Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary. Shakespeare is truly a global icon. In fact, our surveys tell us he is far and away the most famous and well-recognised Briton. And that's no surprise: his work has been translated into over 100 languages, is studied in half the world's schools, and has been adapted to fit every cultural and historical context imaginable. He was born in our small island but belongs to the whole world.
Our programme - developed with the British Council - is called Shakespeare Lives in 2016 and is an invitation to celebrate the bard's life and work, as well as his enduring relevance to the world 400 years after his death. We will be holding events in over 70 countries, sharing specially made films with a 21st century twist on Shakespeare (like a brilliant rap exploration of Twelfth Night) and inviting a global audience to share their Shakespeare favourites on social media.
We are also asking people to play their part in our campaign. Thanks to a partnership with VSO International, we are raising money to fund children's education projects around the world. We want to harness the fame and power of Shakespeare to ensure more young people get the education they deserve; using literature to develop literacy - so that more children will be able to experience Shakespeare's amazing stories and language for themselves.
As the Director of the GREAT Britain campaign, it's not fair to exhort others to play their part, unless I do so myself! So I've decided to run this year's London Marathon to raise money for the VSO and pay my personal tribute to Shakespeare. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the world's bard than to run one of world's greatest marathons, through the city where he expressed his creative genius, the day after Shakespeare's 400th anniversary. After 26.2 miles of pounding London's pavements, I may think differently!
As I run, I will no doubt think of the great men who have sought comfort and inspiration from Shakespeare. Nelson Mandela took solace from lines from Julius Caesar during his incarceration on Robben Island: "Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once". I'll be surrounded by thousands of people who are heroes in their own way, many of whom are pushing themselves through those 26.2 long miles to raise money for a range of fantastic causes. It's always an exhilarating, but also humbling experience.
Shakespeare may not have been a marathon runner himself, but he has plenty of wise advice and inspiration for those who do. For motivation, I would turn to Julius Caesar ("strive with things impossible"), for practical advice to Romeo and Juliet ("Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast"), or indeed to The Tempest for some reassurance if things get too tough ("A turn or two I'll walk/To still my beating mind"). Trust the bard to always have a line to fit every situation! Many of them have already appeared on my JustGiving page.
I'd like to invite you to Play Your Part in Shakespeare Lives. Share your favourite line or moment of Shakespeare using #PlayYourPart. Have a look at some of the brilliant new interpretations of Shakespeare's work from emerging British talent on shakespearelives.org. Look out for the hundreds of activities taking place around the world as part of the Shakespeare Lives programme, many of them organised by the British Council. And make your own donation to VSO International so that children around the world get the education they deserve.