On Monday night a packed-out crowd at London's Grosvenor House witnessed the 16th annual Pride of Britain awards ceremony. The yearly event recognises little-known acts of heroism and ingenuity by the country's unsung stars both old and young. Eventual winners are nominated by the public and amongst the diverse group were Betty Mcglinchey, foster mother of over 1,200 children, dog attack victim Jack Mackay and Sir Tim Berners Lee who invented the World Wide Web. There was also a posthumous honour for Stephen Sutton whose battle with cancer captured the hearts of the country and raised almost five million pounds for charity. It is an emotional event that leaves many attendees and those watching at home moved and inspired if somewhat bleary-eyed.
Host Carol Vorderman was joined at the event by over one hundred celebrities including Stephen Fry, Amanda Holden, Tom Jones, Katherine Kelly, and gold medal-winning Olympians Chris Hoy & Bradley Wiggins who were all visibly humbled in the face of such courage and self-sacrifice. Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles were also in attendance, yet it was the latter’s son, Prince Harry, who was given the duty of honouring 132 wounded British Armed Forces members, the inspirational men and women who competed in the very first Invictus Games. In a powerful video tribute, the prince, who himself served two separate stints in Afghanistan stated that:
"to fight for your country takes courage but to move beyond life-changing injuries takes the extraordinary level of grit and determination."
The 13-nation event was unique - an opportunity for many who came close to losing their lives in combat to face-off in events such as track and field, powerlifting and swimming whilst introducing the nation to lesser-known events such as sitting volleyball and wheelchair rugby. Harry continued:
"Using the power of sport to enhance recovery, the Invictus Games highlighted how those who have been wounded should be recognised for their achievements post injury rather than being defined by any limitations of injury.”
Indeed, the title ‘Invictus’ is not used lightly, in Latin it refers to they who are ‘unconquered’, those venerable elite who show a courage and strength like few others. It is impossible to fully comprehend the challenging journey towards recovery endured by veterans after amputations, traumatic injuries and mental scarring yet gold medal winning veteran Alex Tate spoke of how the games were the "best rehab any soldier could have. I was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It gave me something to focus on." Previous suffering was resigned to the past as the team performed in front of sell-out crowds over five days last month, winning admiration and awe from the whole nation.
Even Michelle Obama had weighed in at the opening ceremony - ‘you tell me you’re not just going to walk you’re going to run a marathon.’ Indeed, it is hard to put it better than the Victorian poet and amputee William Henley, whose 1888 poem was read by Idris Elba at the same event:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley spent the year of 1875 recovering in an infirmary from multiple surgical interventions on his heavily tuberculosed body, it was there that he was moved to write the verses that would become ‘Invictus’. This period of his life, alongside recollections of an impoverished childhood were the primary fuel for the poem. The origin of Henley’s verse is proof that trauma and hardship are as old as they are universal. But it is the spirit of Brits such as Betty Mcglinchey, Alex Tate and William Henley himself that make us at Victoria Eggs honoured to share our little island with such pillars of human resolve and to continue proudly saluting all that makes Britain British.
Blog post by Tom.