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Benedict Cumberbatch gathered an illustrious group of friends at the Royal Academy this week to celebrate the lost art of letter writing. At a dinner thrown by luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre against the backdrop of the RA’s Summer Exhibition, Cumberbatch – a friend of the Swiss Maison – was joined by fellow actors Juliet Stevenson, Ellie Bamber and Clarke Peters.
Celebrating Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 186-year relationship with the Art of Precision, the performers read out historic letters that included missives from David Hockney (delivered by Cumberbatch in a convincing Yorkshire lilt), a dispatch from London from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, which was read by Peters, and from Bamber, a poison pen piece from Marguerite Louise d’Orleans to her estranged husband Cosimo de Medici. With perfect wide-eyed sincerity the Les Miserables star also read a brief letter sent to the editor of The Times that decried the absence of the Duchess of Cambridge from their pages for a single day, which ended simply: “I do hope she’s alright”.
The event was part of Letters Live, a philanthropic initiative that promotes the power of literacy in an age of throwaway tweets and cursory emails. It was also an opportunity for the Maison to unveil several new timepieces, including one very special model that has been specially engineered with tiny hammers and patented crystal gongs to play the Carillon de Westminster, the tune that chimes hourly from the clock tower that houses Big Ben – at least before it recently fell silent for repairs.
As diners took their seats for a sumptuous dinner amidst the artworks in the 250-year-old gallery, the chimes of the Carillon de Westminster rang out, providing an apt reminder of the power of history, and London’s own talent both for celebrating tradition, and showing the world how to have a really good time.
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