Nobel awards ceremony held with many VIPs away for Mandela memorial

Sven Nordenstam
Nobel physics laureate Higgs addresses the traditional Nobel gala banquet at the Stockholm City Hall
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Nobel physics laureate Peter Higgs addresses the traditional Nobel gala banquet at the Stockholm City Hall December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency

By Sven Nordenstam

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden held its lavish annual Nobel awards ceremony on Tuesday attended by laureates and royals, but their ranks were depleted when many VIPs flocked to the memorial for anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

More than 1,300 guests at the banquet attended the Nobel dinner in Stockholm City Hall to dine, chat and listen to laureates including Britain's Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium, who won the Nobel Prize for physics - speak at Sweden's most prestigious social event.

Swedish newspapers spotlighted the hastily rearranged seating at the table of honor after Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Princess Victoria cancelled their attendance to fly to South Africa.

The ceremony was also missing Canadian Nobel-winning author Alice Munro, who was unable to attend because of ill health.

The awards are worth $1.2 million each, reduced from $1.5 million last year under an austerity drive by the Nobel Foundation that manages the roughly $450 million in capital forming the base for the awards.

Despite that, there was no less glamour on show, although Sweden's Princess Madeleine - who attracts huge attention in the country's media - was absent because she is pregnant.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in neighboring Norway on Tuesday was also less well-attended than usual because of the memorial rites for Mandela, South Africa's first black-majority president and a Nobel Peace prize winner.

($1 = 6.6344 Swedish crowns)

(Written by Alistair Scrutton and Simon Johnson, editing by Mark Heinrich)