A Tribute to HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh – Part 4: The Duke of Edinburgh Award

With the sad news of the death of HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99, Celebrity Angels presents a five-part tribute to the Queen’s loyal consort. Here is our Tribute to HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh – Part 4: The Duke of Edinburgh Award

See also: Details of Prince Philip’s Funeral Are Announced

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh first considered the idea of a national programme to support young people’s development in the autumn of 1954 at the request of his inspiring former headmaster, Kurt Hahn.

In the post-war era, His Royal Highness wanted to bridge the gap between leaving formal education at 15 and entering into National Service at 18, so that young men made the best use of their free time, found interests and acquired self-confidence and a sense of purpose that would support them into their future and help them to become well-rounded citizens.

Following discussions with the Minister of Education in 1955, The Duke of Edinburgh consulted a number of national voluntary youth organisations with a ‘boy’ membership with a view to starting a pilot.

The Award

Led by Sir John Hunt (later Lord Hunt), who provided the necessary administration and coordination amongst the partner organisations as the first Director, a pilot for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was launched in February 1956. The programme had four sections; Rescue and Public Service, Expeditions, Pursuits and Projects, and fitness, which would holistically support, guide and upskill young men as The Duke envisaged.

Initially the pilot just involved national voluntary youth organisations and many attended a planning conference at Ashridge College in Hertfordshire in March, 1956. However, the pilot was quickly extended to include Local Education Authorities, the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, and a handful of independent and grammar schools across the UK. After the first year, 7,000 boys had started a DofE programme and 1,000 Awards had been achieved.

In fact, the pilot proved such a success that, by the second year, other small scale pilots overseas and a programme for girls had also been set up. Furthermore, the number of organisations and young people taking part had more than doubled.

The DofE continued to evolve over subsequent decades and in 1980 the age limit was extended so that any young person aged 14 to 24 could take part. At this time, DofE programmes took on their current four section format of: Volunteering, Physical, Skills and Expedition, with an additional Residential section at Gold level.


Popularity continues to grow, with over 130 countries and territories now offering DofE programmes as part of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation. In the UK in 2019/20, 295,490 young people started a DofE programme and a record 159,051 Awards were achieved through schools, colleges, universities, youth clubs, businesses, housing associations, young offender institutions, voluntary organisations and more.

“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is a way of recognising the extraordinary achievement of these young people aged 14-25, which is just the age when I was being useless, they are doing something fantastic and challenging themselves in every possible way.” – Joanna Lumley

The Stats

In the last year, 295,490 young people embarked on a Duke of Edinburgh course, including 72,577 disadvantaged young people. In addition, there are currently 490,535 young people currently doing the DofE programme. There have been over three million UK awards achieved since 1956, with 40,000 leaders and volunteers helping young people achieve at time of writing.

Below are five separate stories from young people on what the award has done for them.


Sam grew up in Hackney, and started his DofE at school. He had no idea of the opportunities it would offer him, or the ways it would change him. “I think the most important skill I got from the DofE is interpersonal and communication skills. You meet people from all walks of life, elite and down to earth. You learn skills doing the DofE that are not taught in school, and vital skills for work. At job interviews you meet people who have done it or wanted to do it – it comes up in job interviews – it stands out and you can use DofE for examples in interviews.”


Nancy grew up in Peckham, the only girl among five boys. Her dad, now a school caretaker, had been a member of the local youth club and encouraged his children to follow in his footsteps. He was well aware of the dangers to young people locally – the area is notorious for gang, gun and drug-related crime and has a high teenage pregnancy rate. Nancy has done her Bronze, Silver and Gold DofE and, as part of this, gained certificates in first aid, sports leadership and fire safety.


Jon was a young offender who was offered the chance to start his DofE journey whilst he was in prison. “There was only space for 15 in the first bunch of lads to be able to start working towards their Bronze Award, but I was hopeful, I had a long sentence, and I was far from being 21 at which I would be shipped to another prison, so I knew my chances were good. I was right, and I was picked, it was a moment that would change the course of the rest of my life…”


After overcoming Raynaud’s disease, Emmaline achieved all three DofE Awards and discovered a love of volunteering. “I truly believe that my DofE Awards helped me gain a place at college and secure my job, where I prepare food in a local restaurant. Both my tutor and boss were impressed when they saw it on my applications, with my boss only asking me about my awards during my interview. The DofE is so well respected and talking about your experience makes you more memorable to your interviewer.”


Sarah did her DofE as part of her apprenticeship at Heathrow. “I’ve been through some really difficult and life-changing times at the hands of mental illness, and when I nearly lost my Dad to it, I knew I couldn’t let it get the better of me – DofE has given me the platform to my ‘best self’, who only sees life’s obstacles as an opportunity, not a limitation. There’s no one in this world who hasn’t faced adversity or challenge in their lives and it genuinely fills me with pride to hear my fellow participants’ stories – it’s a truly humbling experience.”

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