Go big or go home, they say – we went bigger and didn’t go home!
As the dust begins to settle from last week’s Soldiering on Awards ceremony and the thank you notes are being sent out, the excitement is still being nurtured. As CEO of X-Forces Enterprise and Soldiering on Awards I want to briefly reflect on what was an extraordinary night of fun, entertainment, laughter (some tears) and most of all inspiration from our finalists and winners of the 2022 Awards.
The essence of the Soldiering On Awards is to shine a light on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. After the pandemic halted celebrations, it was a joy to gather among these wonderful people and feel such mutual support in the room. The Armed Forces community represents the very best of British, leading the way in demonstrating what it truly means to be a supportive community, and these unique awards provide an opportunity to both reflect on incredible achievements and inspire future endeavours.
On the night we brought together over 600 guests, 36 finalists, 12 category winners, two Special Recognition Awards, a chart-topping Chelsea Pensioner, a star soprano, a wonderful choir, international stars David Beckham and Bear Grylls, an honour guard of Cadets, and much more. We decided to skip the partridge in a pear tree but, suffice to say, it was a packed programme of celebration!
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Johnny Mercer MP joined Ministry of Defence leaders at the event, which was hosted by journalist and television presenter Lucrezia Millarini and former Army Reservist and plane crash survivor Jamie Hull. In a passionate and emotive address, the Minister paid tribute to all of our nominees and finalists, describing their involvement in the awards as life-changing and their achievements as inspirational. He said:
“The reality is that this is an extraordinarily special community… I get my inspiration from you, the work that you do day in, day out. That’s what makes my job easy because I’m not in it for ‘them’ and what they think over in Parliament, I’m in it for you. And that will never change.
“Congratulations to all the recipients of the Soldiering On Awards. You highlight the incredible values that our armed forces bring to civilian life. I’m delighted to have celebrated these fantastic successes in person with award winners and nominees.”
Chief of Defence People, Lieutenant General James Swift OBE, recognised the military community’s contribution to society in his address. He said:
“The armed forces are renowned for building people, teaching skills and providing opportunities. We hope these skills and attributes stand people in good stead for post service life and are what makes us a better society overall both in and out of uniform.
“The Soldiering On Awards help to lift the lid on those remarkable achievements and inspire so many. Tonight’s room is filled with those lived experiences and some of the extraordinary talent from our forces and their families.”
English football legend David Beckham OBE added his praise in a video message, apologising that he could not be present:
“I’m really sorry that I can’t be with you this evening at the wonderful Soldiering On Awards. I know that you’ll be having an amazing night listening to so many inspirational stories of remarkable individuals from across the armed forces community. To you the finalists, the work that you do is so vital; your dedication and commitment is truly incredible. I believe that each and every one of you are winners.”
Soldiering On Awards Chair, General the Lord Dannatt GCB, CBE, MC, DL, explained the event’s importance:
“These awards call attention to the wonderful things people in the armed forces are doing and how they hope to make society better for us all. Their stories of enviable success and achievement we hope will act as inspiration for others as well as affording them a moment of reflection and congratulations.”
I was particularly pleased to host Sarah Atherton MP, a Veteran, Army wife, and mother of a RAF reservist, not to mention the MP behind last year’s inquiry into women’s experiences of the Armed Forces. Sarah underlined the importance of teamwork and the genuine desire to do good that runs through the heart of the military community:
“There’s often a cast of thousands behind the scenes, from family and friends to fantastic charities and businesses. And among them, there are some truly extraordinary individuals and organisations. They don’t do it for the headlines. They do it out of a desire to help others. These are the people we are here to celebrate tonight – you are the true unsung heroes.”
Sarah has also pledged to be a judge for the Soldiering On Awards, we look forward to discussing this further as she would be an invaluable addition to the panel. Many thanks to General, the Lord Dannatt, for the suggestion.
We are incredibly grateful to all those individuals and organisations who have supported the awards many of whom have done so from behind the scenes. The ultimate callout though for me is to the variety of sponsors who support these awards because of what they do to support others in the Community. Because shouting about amazing stories of endeavour and achievement provides people with inspiration and motivation, not least keeping us safe whilst we go about our day to day lives in society. Some of our sponsors have been with us for over a decade, which in itself speaks volumes.
Back at Soldiering On Awards HQ, we’re already working on next year’s awards – here’s to celebrating the class of 2023!
Ren Kapur MBE