On Monday 16th May, I had the incredible privilege of travelling down to London for a special Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award Presentation event in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. What a day!
The sun shone down as Mr Tinker (Churchill Academy’s DofE Manager) and I walked up to – and through! – the famous wrought-iron gates of the Palace. It felt very strange to be on the other side, walking past the famous Coldstream Guards in their sentry boxes and round the side to the gardens. Only official photography was allowed inside the gardens, and we weren’t allowed even to get our phones out. I can understand why, and it did make me experience the whole thing “in the moment” rather than through a screen, but the gardens and the Palace were so spectacular that they were just made for Instagram! It’d’ve been a bit of a giveaway that I’d broken the rules, though, so I was very good and kept my phone well away.
Once we’d arrived in the gardens, all the North Somerset and South Gloucestershire LOs (DofE Licensed Organisations) were gathered together in a reception group. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there from all over the country, all looking incredibly smart and glamorous. Two separate jazz big bands competed from each end of the field, and two of the biggest marquees I’d ever seen were lined up with tea urns and row upon row of shortbread biscuits. I can safely report they were delicious!
Mr Tinker and I met up with Churchill’s Gold Award winner Amy Hogarth, before exploring the gardens. We were inspecting the Coxless Crew boat that four brave women rowed across the Pacific, when we noticed a group of people coming out of the Palace itself – the celebrity presenters! Each group had their own celebrity, and Mr Tinker and I had a great time spotting famous faces: chef Ainsley Harriott, Strictly’s Anton du Beke, Marcella actress Anna Friel, both the Weasley twins from Harry Potter (James and Oliver Phelps), rugby players James Haskell and Ben Cohen, Dr Christian Jessen from Embarrassing Bodies, musician turned businessman Levi Roots, explorer Levison Wood, Nick Hewer from the Apprentice, goalkeeper David Seaman, athlete Sally Gunnell, and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield to name but a few. See who you can spot!
Our group received presentations from Gail Emms MBE, mixed doubles badminton World Champion, Commonwealth Champion and Olympic Silver medallist. She was really inspiring, talking to the group about having to dig deep and persevere when playing badminton against Chinese athletes in China – where badminton has the same status as football does here! She also talked about inspiration, citing her Mum (herself an England international footballer) as one who got her into sport by beating her again and again on the badminton court until, aged 12, Gail won. And kept winning… Finally, she talked about ambition and setting yourself goals, describing how she used to visualise herself atop the podium with a gold medal round her neck, and used that as the motivation to keep going when training was tough and times were hard. She was really inspiring!
The presentations followed, with the Gold Award winners rightly the focus of the proceedings. However, as it was the Diamond Anniversary of the DofE, we also received a special plaque in recognition of the Academy’s commitment to running the DofE over twenty years as a licensed organisation. We gave the DofE a copy of our logo in return, which will be displayed alongside all the other LO logos in their offices!
Finally, our group was visited by HRH The Countess of Wessex, who spent time chatting to the Gold Award winners and the Licensed Organisation representatives. She was particularly interested in hearing about DofE Diamond Challenges, part of a one-off initiative to mark the 60th Anniversary of DofE which allows people of all ages to take on a DofE inspired challenge and earn a Diamond Pin. The Countess herself had just announced a 445 mile bike ride from Holyrood to Buckingham Palace as part of her own Diamond Challenge. Mr Tinker has already completed his Diamond Challenge – a triathlon including an open-water swim! I will be taking to my bike in July for a sportive cycling challenge which includes a rather daunting 850ft climb at one point…you can sponsor me here!
It was an amazing day, but above all it was to mark a particularly good cause. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As we were leaving the Palace, Mr Tinker and I were both saying we wished we’d done DofE when we were at school, but we didn’t have the opportunity. To me, school should be all about opportunity – which is why I’m proud to lead an academy which is licensed to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.