Every year, the Pride of Britain Awards asks us the same four-word
question: "Could you do that?"
Would you throw yourself in the path of a suicide bomber? Would you stand
up to thugs and drug-dealers who threatened your neighbourhood? Or would
you walk quietly away?
At the glittering Pride of Britain Awards 2007, during what Prime
Minister Gordon Brown called a "highlight of the national calendar", the
questions fell thick and fast. Would you carry on running, your legs made
weak by chemotherapy, enduring terrible pain to raise just £100?
Would you tackle a gunman? Would you run towards a man who had set
himself on fire? Could you deliver a premature baby at 30,000 feet? Would
you have had the strength to fight in the mud and fire of the Somme?
Hero seemed such a small word as Henry Allingham, Europe's oldest man,
took to the stage at the age of 111.
But for once, the last remaining volunteer serviceman of WW1 was not out
of place in today's Britain. Yesterday, he was surrounded by bravery -
amongst those who might not have been out of place at the Somme, Ypres or
And that is clearly why Pride of Britain has become the nation's
best-loved awards show on ITV1. Because it gives the lie to the idea that
we live in a selfish, cheap, materialistic society where no one cares for
Because it leaves in tatters Margaret Thatcher's cynical claim that there
is no such thing as society.
Because in a world where our teenagers are being killed in the streets,
here is the antidote - a generation of young people we can be utterly
No wonder eight million viewers tuned in to watch Britain's most
extraordinary awards - double the figures for shows such as the Baftas
and the Brits.
In a celebrity-obsessed world, these are the only awards that get it
Yes, there is always an impressive array of celebrated names involved.
From the Prime Minister and Prince Charles to JK Rowling, Harry Potter's
Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Dame Shirley Bassey, Dame Vera Lynn, Jude
Law, Jamie Oliver, the Beckhams, Stephen Fry, Peter Kay, Little Britain,
Gary Lineker, Ant and Dec.... But this is the one awards where they are
presenting, not receiving.
And it is reassuring to see that even our reverred stars become mere
everyday mortals alongside the extraordinary acts of these ordinary
The bar was set high from the outset, as air stewardess Carol Miller was
introduced on to the stage by the other Carol - Vorderman - a woman who
needs waterproof mascara to get through the awards each year.
The last of the cut glass and dinner-plates had just been cleared away
and across the dining tables, a hush fell.
And so it might. Carol Miller had delivered a baby at 30,000 feet and
that was only the start of it. Seeing how desperately premature the 1lb
1oz baby was, Carol then made herself into a human life support system,
blowing into baby Alfie's lungs through a straw.
Stewardess Carol had been summoned to the awards by her favourite
comedian, Peter Kay, calling to her over the tannoy at Manchester
Airport. She couldn't believe it.
At the ceremony, presenting her award, even Little Britain's Matt Lucas
and David Walliams were lost for words. The awards reunited her for the
first time with the parents of the baby she had saved. Their debt was
written across their faces for all to see.
Next came Chloe Gambrill, nine years old and already a hero, having run a
Race for Life despite suffering leukaemia and collapsing from exhaustion
Honoured by Ant and Dec, Chloe was like a miniature lesson in supporting
charity. She hadn't raised millions, but hundreds of pounds - and she had
fought for every single penny at a cost most of us can only imagine. Hero
followed hero, and ovation followed ovation, but the applause was never
louder than for the civilian heroes of the attempted terrorist strike on
Each a master of understatement, John Smeaton, Michael Kerr, Alex
McIlveen and Stephen Clarkson appeared bewildered as to what the fuss was
"I just thought 'I've got to stop this guy'," explained Stephen, a
41-year-old groundsman from Glasgow, explaining why he ran towards a man
who had set himself on fire and was attacking police officers.
The Prime Minister, who also honoured the Glasgow heroes in his speech at
the Labour Party Conference, and wife Sarah Brown were proud to hand over
It turned out to be a night that showed why terrorists intent on bringing
death and fear to the streets of Britain will always lose.
There was also an award for Peter Lachanudis and Susan Porter, staff at
the Northern Ireland parliament building who took out an armed mass
murderer with their bare hands. Notorious Loyalist paramilitary member
Michael Stone had stormed Stormont with a rucksack full of bombs -
determined to tear apart the Northern Ireland peace process.
With no-nonsense courage, Porter and Lachanudis wrestled him to the
There was also Robert Dunn, who saved his family from a horrific drunken
attack by a man with a meat cleaver
This was a ceremony with so many special moments, it was impossible to
tear your eyes from the stage.
The shrieks of Harry Potter-obsessed Megan Blunt, a child cancer patient
who has written a guidebook to help other suffering children - meeting
her writing inspiration, JK Rowling. The tears of little Lydia Cross, who
had both her legs amputated after contracting meningitis, beaming at the
sight of her dad flown home specially from Iraq.
There was the moving moment when Ewan McGregor touched down on the Iraqi
frontline in Basra to honour bomb disposal expert Sgt Michelle Cunningham
who calmly walked into a fire in an explosives factory and made the
On a night for unsung heroes, Vicki Peters was saluted by Stephen Fry, a
fellow sufferer of manic depression, for fighting a little-understood
illness with such courage. And Patsy Kensit thanked Teacher of the Year
and Emmerdale fan Pam Redican for refusing to give up on difficult,
supposedly unteachable pupils.
Next up was Anne Glover, who refused to give in to the thugs and drug
dealers on her estate, even when they firebombed her car and threatened
her life. Here was a woman completely unfazed when Noel Edmonds landed
his helicopter on her Leicester council estate to invite her to the
"Are you sure my a*** is going to fit in that thing?" she said.
His chest covered with medals, WWI veteran Henry Allingham was surprised
on stage by his two favourite dames - wartime forces sweetheart Dame Vera
Lynn and Cardiff diva Dame Shirley Bassey, who had flown in from Monaco
to attend the awards.
But, for almost blind Henry, the most magical moment came when he was
joined by all his grandchildren, his great-granddaughter and
great-great-granddaughter, who had flown in secretly from America. At
111, there must be few surprises left in life, but this surely was a
night to remember.
There were celebrities honoured too - JK Rowling, a living inspiration to
single mums and would-be authors, and Lewis Hamilton, who came from a
Stevenage council estate to become a sporting icon.
There were those the ITV-watching public had voted to receive awards,
such as Miriam Bennett, who has fostered more than 300 kids, and
firefighter Tam Brown who plunged into a swollen river to save a drowning
And if there was one man capable of providing a finale to such riches of
the human spirit, it was heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub.
The figures spoke for themselves: 20,000 lifesaving heart operations,
2,000 heart transplants, more than 350 heartlung transplants, 1,000 lives
saved in developing countries by his inspirational charity Chain of Hope.
Last year, at the age of 70, he even came out of retirement to help with
a special "Piggyback" heart transplant. As a mere fraction of his
patients took to the stage, 50 or so, it was impossible to imagine the
sheer numbers of people who owe their lives to this one man.
Few of us will wake up tomorrow capable of being a Magdi Yacoub, a man
legendary even amongst his peers in the highest echelons of medicine.
But Pride of Britain shows us how much more we are capable of in our
everyday lives, when we are confronted by the twin evils of poverty,
which needs our help, and thuggery, which needs our resistance.
Pride of Britain is like the National Lottery show in reverse. It is not
about wealth, but about riches. And while the lottery states "It could be
you", Pride of Britain asks a question inspiringly different: "Could it
By Ros Wynne-Jones at Pride of Britain 2007
Report published in Daily Mirror, 11th October, 2007.