The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop the 2020 Diana Awards from happening, with the Duke of Sussex amongst the celebrities and changemakers who joined a virtual ceremony to honour inspirational young people on what would have been Diana, Princess of Wales’s 59th birthday.
The Diana Award is the highest accolade a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts and their first-ever virtual ceremony took place today on The Diana Award YouTube channel, hosted by The Vamps star James McVey and 2019 Diana Legacy Award recipient Cora-Laine Moynihan.
Established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Diana Award is given out by the charity of the same name and today honoured 184 young people from 35 countries. The organisation is supported by the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, who are actively involved with The Diana Award’s mentoring and anti-bullying schemes.
The Duke of Sussex, on behalf of him and his brother, surprised the winners with a congratulatory video message.
“I am so incredibly proud to be part of these awards as they honour the legacy of my mother and bring out the very best in people like you,” Harry said.
“You are all doing such incredible work and at a time of great uncertainty, you have found the power and inspiration inside of you to make a positive mark on the world, and I love that The Diana Award is able to help you do it. I know that my mother has been an inspiration to many of you and I can assure you she would have been fighting your corner. Like many of you, she never took the easy route, or the popular one, or the comfortable one, but she stood for something and she stood up for people who needed it.”
The Duke went on to highlight his commitment to doing work on racial injustice. “Right now, we’re seeing situations around the world where division, isolation, and anger are dominating as pain and trauma come to the surface. But I see the greatest hope in people like you and I’m confident about the world’s future and its ability to heal because it is in your hands,” he said.
“My wife said recently that our generation and the ones before us haven’t done enough to right the wrongs of the past. I too am sorry; sorry that we haven’t got the world to the place that you deserve it to be. Institutional racism has no place in our societies, yet it is still endemic. Unconscious bias must be acknowledged without blame to create a better world for all of you. I want you to know that we are committed to being part of the solution and to being part of the change that you are all leading. Now is the time and we know that you can do it.”
He honoured six of the young people he and the Duke of Cambridge have come to know, passing the mic to one of them: 24-year-old James Frater from London, who is tackling racial inequality by creating initiatives to increase the representation of black students at university. After 300 detentions and exclusions from school, his life was turned around by four teachers who mentored him through education. James is now determined to make access to education and opportunities more equitable for everyone, regardless of their background, focusing particularly on Caribbean students.
Speaking of his experiences at school, James said, “I think I’d summarise them as feeling dismissed and often labeled being a black Caribbean boy. Often teachers wouldn’t give me the chance to prove myself because they already labeled me as a disruptive student in the class.”
Liam Payne of One Direction was another familiar face who joined the ceremony. He surprised one of the winners, 13-year-old Madihah Nehar from Birmingham, asking about what she’s done to campaign for children’s rights. Madihah, who has led a student and staff team in their successful quest to teach the community about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, called Diana “an inspiration to so many people.”
“Thank you for rising up for your friends, your family, your school, or your community,” Tessy Ojo, CEO of The Diana Award, said to kick off the ceremony. “Because you chose to rise up change happened. Similar to what Princess Diana did so many years ago when she, like you, showed up for communities that needed her the most. Communities affected by landmines, HIV, ill health, poverty, and many more. So in doing what you did you truly are continuing her legacy by extending compassion to others.”
Others who honoured young changemakers from all over the globe during the event included Ade Adepitan MBE, Aisling Bea, Katie Boulter, YolanDa Brown, Miranda Hart, Steph McGovern, Will Poulter, Ashley Singh, Dan Smith – Bastille, Cel Spellman, Sam and Mark, and Hacker the Dog.
The virtual awards coincide with The Diana Award’s release of the 2020 Roll of Honour listing all the year’s 184 recipients. The list is available here and the full virtual ceremony is available to watch again.