The biggest ever gathering of Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award winners filled the garden of Buckingham Palace today as part of the scheme’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
More than 1,000 young people were presented with their awards by around 60 celebrities including Anna Friel, Ben Cohen, Ronan Keating and Anton du Beke, who had all been drafted in to help Prince Philip and the Earl and Countess of Wessex hand out badges and certificates.
The Award started in 1956 to bridge the gap between boys leaving school and entering National Service, and since then has grown into the world’s leading youth achievement award. This year, people who are older than the age limit of 24 are being encouraged to tackle a DofE-style challenge to raise money for the scheme.
Some of the star guests were so inspired by the stories they heard that they decided to take on their own DofE Diamond Challenge.
The impressionist and comedian Jon Culshaw told the Duke of Edinburgh he is planning on going around the London Olympic Stadium track 60 times in a Dalek from Doctor Who.
He said: “When I told him he recoiled slightly, with a look of slight horror as if to say ‘you complete buffoon, you haven’t really thought this through’.
“But I think it will happen. I’ve found that a Matt Smith era Dalek is the best kind, because you can actually stand up in them. I like the fact that it’s a bit barmy though.
“The biggest hurdle is going to be getting the people who look after the Daleks to let me borrow one, because this would be a force for good, but they don’t really like them doing things that aren’t evil.”
Anna Friel, who also met the Duke, said: “I never did the DofE Award when I was younger, but my best friends did. I was in the drama room while they were in the mountains.
“It’s a great scheme because it encourages young people to push themselves, it teaches them life skills. I was talking to someone the other day about why they did it, and they said ‘because it will help me to get a job, it shows that you are up for a challenge’.
“I am going to Borneo next week to help release some orang-utans into the wild, so maybe that could be my Diamond Challenge!”
Former England rugby player Ben Cohen, who was at the garden party with his heavily-pregnant girlfriend and former Strictly Come Dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff, said: “I couldn’t do the award at school because I was concentrating on my rugby, but when you come here and see this you realise how big the DofE Award is.
“I was asked to present awards and it was an easy yes, it’s an honour to give these awards out.”
Oliver Phelps, who played George Weasley in the Harry Potter films, and his twin brother James, who played Fred Weasley, started doing a Duke of Edinburgh award when they were at school, but had to abandon it when they were cast in the films at an open audition.
Oliver said: “People don’t realise how much effort goes into achieving a Gold Award. I think we might make up for [missing out at school] by doing the Diamond Challenge. I’m thinking of playing 60 holes of golf in a day, and James wants to do something involving hiking.”
Among the Gold Award recipients was Sarah Sinclair, a 25-year-old single mother from Sandy, Orkney, who managed to fit in 18 months of DofE activities around looking after her five-year-old daughter Maisie.
She said: “I wasn’t intending to do it, but I had done bronze and the co-ordinator got hold of me because she was short of a person to make up a group to do an expedition.
“She twisted my arm and I agreed to do it, and she said ‘you’ve done the hard part, you might as well do the rest of the award now’.”
As well as young people who have just finished their Gold Awards, some of the earliest recipients were invited back to share the day.
They included Tony Mullins, 76, from Birmingham, who was one of 49 boys receiving Gold Awards in the Bow Room at Buckingham Palace in 1958.
He said: “It was a bit different in those days, because we didn’t even have proper rucksacks, just Army kit bags with boot polish on to make them waterproof. We had no plastic bags so all our food was in tins, and our tent was so heavy if it got wet that we would do anything to avoid putting it up.
“We slept in barns, hedgerows, sheds, and I even slept in a kennel. I told Prince Philip that no-one could tell if you were doing it wrong, so it was fine, and he laughed and said he couldn’t really argue with that.”