Heroes – why do we need them? What is it that makes our hearts soar when we encounter stories of individual bravery or courage? Is it a simple human emotion of applauding a good deed, or does it run deeper? Is it that in a society increasingly obsessed by the idea of self, we are reassured by acts of selflessness?
Or is it that when we are bombarded by stories and pictures that show wrongdoing we are uplifted by actions of goodness? I think it’s a combination of all three.
Whatever the reason, the Pride of Britain Awards really do touch the nation’s conscience. I’ve been hosting the awards since our first ceremony back in 1999, and the experience never fails to humble me.
It’s the one ceremony that everyone wants to be associated with. There’s no arm-twisting, no books or films to plug – the guests turn up because there’s a greater good to celebrate, though former Home Secretary John Reid has less reason than most to remember it with fondness.
In 2006, Silla Carron, our Neighbour of the Year, started berating Reid from the stage and took him to task over drug legislation. The entire room was agog. Silla, who had just received her award, grinned at him and said: I want a word with you, sunshine.
The audience and millions of viewers at home watched in amazement as the petite grandmother secured a meeting with Reid to discuss crime on her estate.
This year’s winners are as inspiring and amazing as ever.
Our heroes range from a teenager who, despite the loss of all four limbs, swam her way to a gold medal at a national championship only nine months after learning to swim; a pensioner who foiled a violent robbery which led to the arrest of the armed criminals; a six-year-old boy who, after battling cancer, raised thousands to help fellow young patients; and a true genius who has dedicated much of his life to raising 50 million to help sick children.
Each and every year, without fail, I am bowled over by the amazing acts of bravery, courage, and unstoppable determination of all our winners. A trait that is common among them all is that they don’t seek recognition or applause for their incredible heroism. In fact, over the years I have heard the same remark over and over again: “But anyone would have done the same in my situation”.
The humility they display is as inspirational as the acts they carry out. They deserve our recognition and our gratitude because they symbolise everything that is great about this country, and by doing so they set a standard for the rest of us to aspire to.
And that sentiment has never been more pertinent than now. The last couple of years have been especially tough in this country. We’ve been through a terrible recession and only last month we witnessed the horrific scenes of rioting and burning across our cities.
At times like these it’s vital to remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of people are decent, caring, upstanding members of our society. For me, this is the reason why every year millions of people from all walks of life join together to celebrate the Pride of Britain.
As a nation we have a long and proud history of honouring our heroes and drawing inspiration from them. Long may it continue.
The Pride of Britain Awards air tonight at 8pm, ITV1