Last night I had the hugely enjoyable task of co-hosting a charity gala dinner at which HRH The Duke of Cambridge was the guest of honour.
Prince William has become a loyal supporter of SkillForce and so it was a real honour to welcome him to the event – in his role as patron of the charity – to mark our tenth anniversary.
I tend to launch and support charities involved in areas in which I have a real interest and SkillForce most certainly centres on two of my passions: education and the military. SkillForce inspires young people to achieve at school and succeed in life using the values of Armed Forces’ personnel.
Last night I and Peter Cross, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of SkillForce, welcomed the Duke of Cambridge to the event, and Peter and I introduced HRH to students and donors. At the start of last night’s dinner, I introduced Prince William, telling guests: “The Duke of Cambridge’s commitment to SkillForce is well known and hugely significant – we are enormously privileged to have him championing our cause.”
The venue for last night’s event was Imperial War Museums, London, and so I told guests: “This is an iconic venue and we are, of course, during a time of Remembrance, 100 years since the Great War began. There are so many things that have come together to make this a special evening.”
Before the dinner, I showed Prince William the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the IWM, which is the home to my 200-strong collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses and to other VCs and GCs in the care of the museum.
As someone who has served in and who greatly supports our Armed Forces, HRH seemed fascinated by the VCs, GCs and other memorabilia in the gallery. Because of his role as a helicopter pilot, I concentrated on showing him some of the VCs in my collection that were awarded for gallantry in the air.
The medal groups included the VC to the first airman to be awarded the VC (Second Lieutenant William Rhodes Moorhouse during the Great War) and the VC awarded to the first airman to shoot down a German airship over Britain in the same conflict (Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson). I also showed him the only VC and Bar – the equivalent of two VCs – of the First World War (awarded posthumously to Captain Noel Chavasse).
The Duke of Cambridge was enthusiastic to learn about the stories behind the medals and he seized on one VC in particular from my collection: the decoration awarded to Private Thomas Dinesen for bravery during hand-to-hand fighting towards the end of the Great War. As a Dane, Dinesen is one of only a small number of non-British or Commonwealth servicemen to be awarded the VC.
However, last night was all about championing the work of SkillForce: the charity has changed the lives of some 50,000 young people and provided employment or training for 1,000 veterans, often being their first employment on leaving the Services. Many of these people have been wounded, injured or sick and we all especially proud of SkillForce’s record in this area.
SkillForce feels hugely privileged to have the Duke of Cambridge as its patron and we feel honoured that he was able to attend last night’s gala dinner, making it an occasion to remember for all those who were present.
I have met Prince William a few times before and I have always been greatly impressed by him. I think we are extremely fortunate, as a nation, to have such an intelligent, charming and grounded young man waiting in the wings to serve as our future king.
>Those wanting to know more about SkillForce or to donate to the charity should visit: www.skillforce.org.