Windsor High School and Sixth Form, Richmond Street, Halesowen, B63 4BB
Part of Windsor Academy Trust

Going for Gold by Mr Hamilton

23rd June 2023

About 10 years ago, I started my DofE journey. Unusually for most, I then spent the next 10 years procrastinating and therefore left Sixth Form - and University - and every subsequent summer - without a Gold Award to my name. Setback after setback had added delay after delay to its completion.

Until, last summer, I ticked off the Residential Section - the final, unfinished part, of my Gold DofE, and closed that chapter of my life.


Not long later, my official invitation arrived in the post. I was expected at Buckingham Palace on Friday 19th May, to meet the Duke of Edinburgh and celebrate my achievement. On that same day, unbeknownst to me, lots of our ex-students also attended - to celebrate their own awards. Here’s a rundown of what happened on a day that, for me, was 10 years in the making.

A welcome reception

When we got to Buckingham Palace, the thing that struck me the most was how empty it was. Police had cordoned off the area preventing tourists from traipsing towards the gates, giving photographers clear shots of the building for, quite possibly, the first time ever.

We were given a little free time to wander the gardens and take in the sights and sounds. It was absolutely pristine, with such a wonderful array of flowers that had just started to blossom. We had time for tea and cake in a huge gazebo, and then attended our first talk.

At Gold Award ceremonies, celebrity speakers from all over are invited to share their inspirational stories. First up for me was Matthew Johnson, an advocate for men’s mental health, as well as presenter for ITV and Channel 5. It was empowering to listen to his speech about such an important topic, and his openness about his own mental health journey was truly enlightening.

At this point, the live orchestra stopped playing and everyone else gathered around the centre of the gardens, just outside the back of the building. The main event was about to begin.

The Duke’s arrival

The crowd hushed as the new Duke of Edinburgh - Prince Edward - walked onto stage. You could tell that he was new to the role because he didn’t seem to carry the same ease at which Prince Philip did from behind a microphone, but that didn’t detract from the gravitas of his words.

After Prince Edward was Emily Palmer, a Youth Ambassador for DofE, who I’d say was the most inspiring person there. She shared a tragic story of how she’d undergone a life changing accident that had left her unable to walk, before having dedicated herself to physical exercise. 

Emily learned to walk again when she decided that she was still determined to finish her Gold DofE. One 80km walk across a weekend later, and she had also ticked off her final section. Plus, she was nearly as old as me, which was a welcome relief!

Finally, Charlotte Hawkins, from Good Morning Britain, took to the stage. You could tell she was a presenter; she carried herself like one. Every word was precise and delivered with impact. That’s not to say that the other speakers weren’t good - they were great - but her confidence was immeasurable.

After they’d finished, we were free to visit more of the smaller speakers once again. My guest got distracted by the Duke of Edinburgh (who we must now have at least 16,000 photos of) and I bumped into somebody who I’d not seen since I left school. We then made our way to the final speakers that we’d have time for before leaving.

Jumping onto stage

Our final speakers were twin Olympic champions Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova. Though you could tell that their forte was gymnastics and not public speaking, that didn’t matter - their story about hard work, training and determination was also inspiring. How they fit training and competing alongside their A Levels is beyond me.

In what is equal measures exciting and frustrating, everyone will have actually had their own experiences of the event. While we all listened to the Duke, Emily and Charlotte, there were actually four other speakers who I didn’t get to see, since they all spoke at the same time across different stages:

  • Andrea Spendolini-Sirleix, an Olympic diver
  • Sally Orange, an endurance runner and athlete
  • Vick Hope, a TV and radio presenter. You may have heard her on Radio 1
  • Karthi Gnanasegaram, a TV and radio presenter (of Classic FM and Amazon Prime fame!)

If you were at the event and saw any of those four, write in to let us know what they were like!

With that, the event started to wind down - we had to get onto the M25 before getting gridlocked for hours, so started to make our way home. The day was a superb way to celebrate an achievement that took so long to achieve, and I know that our ex-students who attended - and current students who work towards their awards - will enjoy it just as much as I did.