Duchess of Cambridge sparks treasure hunt to find hidden lockdown picture books

May 7, 2021 News

Duchess of Cambridge sparks treasure hunt to find hidden lockdown picture books

Dressed in a vibrant red Eponine coat, she bent to carefully place the book against the railing before leaving it there for someone to find. Others hiding copies in all four UK nations included 46 Hold Still participants and 73 “book fairies”.

The book fairy movement urges readers to share books they have read and enjoyed by leaving them in public spaces for others to find. Each individual was encouraged to hide the book somewhere that “gave them hope” during lockdown to reflect the book’s theme.

Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020 was published a year to the day since the Duchess launched the project at the National Portrait Gallery, and it was an instant bestseller, soaring straight to the top of the Amazon bestseller list.

It provides a unique record of the resilience, bravery and kindness shown during the crisis, whilst encapsulating the human tragedy that came alongside it.

Sales proceeds will be split between mental health charity Mind and the National Portrait Gallery, helping to support arts and mental health projects across the UK.

The aim of the treasure hunt was to take the 100 portraits featured in the book “back to the community” by allowing the wider public to learn about the project and the powerful individual stories behind each image.

As with all book fairy campaigns, participants were advised to take a photograph of the book in its secret location, allowing its journey to be tracked whilst also creating a social community.

Within hours, social media was awash with images of the book’s unmistakable cover gleaming in the spring sunshine.

Dawn Wakefield, an artist living in the Peak District, revealed that she had left a copy of the “beautiful” book in the village of Hartington, Derbyshire.

“I chose a place outside the centre, in a fairy dell,” she wrote alongside a picture of the book propped up at the base of a tree amid a sea of yellow flowers.

A photograph of nurse Melanie Senior, taken by Johanna Churchill, on display at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, during a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge to mark the publication of 'Hold Still'

Credit: Arthur Edwards/PA Wire

Nina, a finalist, revealed she had left her copy near the station in Crystal Palace Park, south London, a place she loved during lockdown.

One book was pictured propped up against a postbox decorated with balloons and a fairy doll, another on a cafe chair in Putney, south west London and another against a lamppost in Trafalgar Square.

A copy was left at a school in the Welsh Valleys and another was left at a cafe in Prestwick, South Ayrshire, which “kept the local community going with coffee & kindness.” One was found at Forth Valley Hospital, while a group of proud-looking school children found a copy in Edinburgh.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, revealed he found a copy on his morning walk.

In the introduction to the book, the Duchess said she had wanted to create a lasting record of the pandemic, to capture individual stories and significant moments for families and communities.

On Friday, she hailed the "power of photography" as she marked the launch with two engagements in London.

The Duchess said she felt she had "lived through the experience" of the people in the pictures and reminisced about whittling more than 35,000 entries down to 100.

“I’ve got memories of all these thumbnails across my dining room table and I was like, please can we have a few more than 100,” she laughed.

"It’s about the stories. It’s about more than art."

She also praised the “iconic” cover image of nurse Melanie Senior by Johannah Churchill as she viewed the portrait at the Royal London Hospital in east London.

The image, titled ‘Melanie’, was gifted to the hospital by the Duchess and the National Portrait Gallery and will hang in its main corridor as a reminder of the efforts of NHS staff throughout the pandemic. 

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