For an impoverished son of a shoemaker, Hans Christian Andersen certainly made his mark in the world of literature, his legacy still flourishing almost 200 years after he was born in Denmark.
Next year writers and actors, including A S Byatt, Michael Morpurgo, Derek Jacobi, Sir Roger Moore and Elizabeth Hurley, will join a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes .
The occasion is being used by the Danes both to promote one of their most famous sons and for a worldwide literacy campaign. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and his wife Mary yesterday launched the celebrations at the British Library in London, which is to hold a blockbuster exhibition dedicated to Andersen's life and works next summer.
Lars Seeberg, secretary general of the Hans Christian Andersen 2005 Foundation, which has contributed £27m towards the celebrations, said they regarded Andersen as more than a son of Denmark. He said: "We have invited the world to contribute with artistic renditions of the life and work of Andersen and our invitation has been well received."
The foundation is appointing a series of ambassadors to promote the use of Andersen's works in encouraging reading.
Additional British ambassadors include David Frost, the Danish-born broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and Jackie Wullschlager, Andersen's biographer.
Dame Byatt said yesterday that it was the dark stories of The Little Mermaid , The Snow Queen and Thumbelina which had turned her into a writer.
The literacy campaign will be accompanied by a series of Andersen-related cultural events. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will also perform 10 new compositions by Danish composers which were inspired by Andersen's fairytales.
The actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner are collaborating on some similarly inspired theatre for children and the Tiger Lillies cabaret trio are to stage a version of The Little Match Girl .
Andersen, who lived from 1805 to 1875, visited Britain twice during his lifetime, most notably outstaying his welcome at the home of Charles Dickens.
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