DofE award gold holder tells Westminster Abbey of scheme's impact

‘His legacy impacted me… and will continue to impact future generations’: Duke of Edinburgh Award gold holder tells Westminster Abbey how Prince Philip’s scheme created huge ‘opportunities’ in her life

  • Doyin Sonibare, 28, from London, paid tribute to the duke in front of senior members of his family
  • Ms Sonibare won her gold award ten years ago and is now researching sickle cell disease for a PHD 
  • Nine other award holders, aged from 18 to 22, lined the steps of Westminster Abbey as guests arrive
  • Prince Philip founded the DofE in 1956 after being inspired by his former headmaster at Gordonstoun school 

A holder of a gold award from the Duke of Edinburgh scheme today spoke of the impact that Prince Philip’s legacy had on her as she spoke at his memorial service at Westminster Abbey. 

Doyin Sonibare, 28, from London, paid tribute to the Duke – who died last year aged 99 – in front of around 1,800 guests at this morning’s service.

As Philip’s widow the Queen watched on watched on, Ms Sonibare told how she began doing her DofE award when she was just 15 and said completing the scheme helped her to get her first job aged 18. 

She said: ‘On reflection, I never thought I could do half of the things I have done in the last decade, yet I’ve been able to do so because of the opportunities presented to me. 

‘In 1956, when the Duke of Edinburgh created the Award, he had a vision to create a programme which supported the development of young people all over the world. 

‘Today, you’ve learnt how his legacy has impacted me and how it will continue to impact future generations to come.’    

Ms Sonibare now works as an advertising account executive and is also studying for a PhD at Brunel University.

Nine other recent holders of the gold award, who are aged between 18 and 27, lined the abbey steps as guests arrived. 

DofE award holders and representatives from the dozens of other charities he was involved with were unable to attend Prince Philip’s funeral last year due to coronavirus restrictions that were in place. 

One of the gold award holders who is lining the steps today, Rajin Modha, 27, told MailOnline that the scheme allowed him to ‘find myself as an individual’. 

Prince Philip founded the DofE in 1956 after being inspired by his former headmaster at Gordonstoun school.  

Over the six-and-a-half decades since then, more than 6.7million young men and women have participated in DofE programmes in the UK and have achieved 3.1million awards. It is now offered in more than 140 countries.


A holder of a gold award from the Duke of Edinburgh scheme today spoke of the impact that Prince Philip’s legacy had on her as she spoke at his memorial service at Westminster Abbey. Doyin Sonibare (pictured left giving her speech and right, during her DofE expedition), 28, from London , paid tribute to the Duke – who died last year aged 99 – in what was the first speech at this morning’s service 

Prince Philip founded the DofE in 1956 after being inspired by his former headmaster at Gordonstoun schoolAbove: The Duke of Edinburgh hosts DofE gold award presentations at Hillsborough Castle in County Down in 2017

As Philip’s widow the Queen watched on watched on, Ms Sonibare told how she began doing her DofE award when she was just 15 and said completing the scheme helped her to get her first job aged 18. Above: The Queen, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne and her husband Timothy Laurence are seen at today’s service

In her speech, Ms Sonibare credited Philip’s initiative, which he set up in 1956, with helping her secure her first job as a project co-ordinator at IBM at 18 without any professional experience.

She said the youth challenge had remained a prominent part of her life, and the east Londoner, who had never been camping before, told how she had to overcome a fear of climbing hills to pursue her DofE expedition.

‘I wasn’t completely sold on the idea at first,’ she admitted.

‘I was happy I could learn new skills and build upon my interests such as learning how to drive and playing netball.

‘But I was worried about the expedition, I grew up in east London and had never been camping before.

‘I also had a fear of climbing steep hills – I kept thinking I was going to trip up, roll down the mountain and ‘it’s lights out for Doyin’. Fortunately for me, that didn’t happen.’

She added: ‘I remember thinking to myself, if I could complete this expedition, I can do anything.’

Ms Sonibare said she used the experiences and teamwork skills from her expedition to Wales and while fundraising for a volunteering trip to The Gambia to land her first job, including using them on her CV and in her answers during the interview.

‘It all linked back to the award which actually links back to the golden word – opportunity,’ she said.

‘On reflection, I never thought I could do half of the things I have done in the last decade, yet I’ve been able to do so because of the opportunities presented to me.

‘In 1956, when the Duke of Edinburgh created the Award, he had a vision to create a programme which supported the development of young people all over the world.

‘Today, you’ve learnt how his legacy has impacted me and how it will continue to impact future generations to come.’

Ms Sonibare stressed the need to support the young in the wake of the pandemic.

‘The world has been through so much turmoil and in these times, it is so important to show our support to young people, to encourage them with opportunities and empower them to reach their full potential,’ she said.

Ms Sonibare went on set up a work experience programme for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is the team captain for the DofE’s Do it 4 Youth campaign.    

Ms Sonibare, who completed her gold award in 2014, had said ahead of her speech: ‘It’s a huge honour to speak at today’s service and reflect on the amazing impact The Duke’s legacy has had on me and millions of others – and will go on having for future generations.

‘When I look back at the last decade, I’ve achieved so much more than I thought I could – and it’s down to my DofE and the opportunity it gave me.

‘At times like these, with so much uncertainty and upheaval, it’s so important all young people get opportunities like this, so they have every chance to fulfil their potential too.’ 

In her speech, Ms Sonibare credited Philip’s initiative, which he set up in 1956, with helping her secure her first job as a project co-ordinator at IBM at 18 without any professional experience 

Among those to achieve the award in previous years is the Duchess of Cambridge, who won her gold while at Marlborough College.

Philip’s youngest son, Prince Edward, attained his gold award in 1986 and was pictured laughing as he was presented with it by his father.

DofE award allowed me to ‘find myself as an individual’, memorial service attendee says

Rajan Modha, 27

Rajan Modha, 27, from Harrow, north-west London, is one of the nine DofE gold award holders who will be lining the steps of Westminster Abbey today.

He first started on the scheme in 2009 and completed it in 2017 after cycling more than 180miles through the Gambia in in Africa over the course of four days to gain his gold award.

Speaking to MailOnline, he said: ‘The DofE allowed me to find myself as an individual and showed me what I was good at.

‘It challenged me from the more practical perspective, which was very suited to my skillset.’

While in Africa, he met with dozens of other young people from around the world who were also doing the DofE.

‘The common ground was the DofE. It is just amazing how different countries and cultures are brought together. We were brought together by this one scheme,’ he said.

Mr Modha, who works as a freelance climbing coach and for IT firm Oracle, said he was presented with his gold award by Prince Edward.

‘It was an honour to meet Prince Edward. When you complete your gold award it is the pinnacle moment. It goes to show that if you stay consistent and follow it all the way through, you are rewarded. It was a surreal moment,’ he said.

He added that the DofE ‘unlocked’ his ‘hidden passion’ for mountaineering.

Dame Kelly Holmes got a silver award, while footballer Kevin Keegan and Olympian Tessa Sanderson achieved bronze. Other notable alumni include singer Katherine Jenkins, actress Ashley Jensen and adventurer Ben Fogle.

The scheme is arguably the duke’s greatest legacy, having helped young people learn new skills, confidence and resilience – improving their life chances and employability.

But it did not receive such a warm reception when he first mooted the idea, with the then minister of education Sir David Eccles commenting: ‘I hear you’re trying to invent something like the Hitler Youth.’

Nevertheless, the concept got off the ground in February 1956 and after the first year 7,000 boys had started a DofE programme and 1,000 awards had been achieved.

By the second year, other small-scale pilots were launched overseas and a programme for girls had been set up.

In the 1970s, the DofE began partnering with businesses to help young people amid a rising tide of youth unemployment.

Today, employers actively look for DofE award holders when they are recruiting. At any one time, more than 300,000 people are taking part in DofE programmes.

Philip’s former headmaster, Kurt Hahn – a German Jew who fled the Nazis – was a huge influence on Philip’s life.

In 1934 he established Gordonstoun, the Scottish private school. Philip, who had moved to the UK from Germany, was one of his first pupils.

At Gordonstoun, the boys rose at 6.30am for a cold shower and a run.

Hahn, who died in 1974, had been concerned with the ‘decline of modern youth’ and pinpointed antidotes, such as fitness training, expeditions and projects.

His motto was ‘There is more in you than you think’ and it was a philosophy that would leave a lasting impression on the young prince – and one that still resonates with the awards today.

Hahn created the Moray Badge, which Philip himself gained while at the school.

It was such a success that Hahn wanted to make the award a national one and persuaded Philip to launch it under his name.

It takes six months each to complete the bronze and silver awards, and 12 months for the gold. It is open to everyone aged 14 to 24.

Nowadays, there are four main sections of a DofE programme – volunteering, physical, skills and expedition. For gold, participants also complete a residential section.


Nine other DofE gold award holders lined the steps of Westminster Abbey. Joel Chilaka (left), 21, from London, is now a junior doctor and credits doing the DofE with helping him to grow as a person. Felix Daglish, 20, from Wandsworth, south-west London, has achieved his gold award and is a youth ambassador for the DofE


Josie Harrison (left), 18, from Doncaster, is a gold award holder and youth ambassador for the DofE. She said the DofE helped to build her confidence and independence. She was also involved in helping to create the DofE’s youth manifesto. Lira Lewis, 22, from Leeds, has dyslexia and dyspraxia and struggled with bullying at school. She was encouraged to sign up to the DofE to help her confidence and now has a gold award


Jack Bayley, 21, from Manchester, is a holder of the gold award. He struggled with his mental health and credits the DofE with helping him to get his life back on track. It gave him the structure and motivation he needed to take part in extracurricular activities, and has inspired him to work towards becoming a PE teacher. George Fisher, 21, from Sidcup, south-east London, volunteered with children and young people and adults with disabilities for the volunteering element of his DofE award He credits the scheme with helping him to overcome his struggles with anger when he was a teenager 


Lucy Aur (left), 22, is a gold award holder. She struggled with anxiety growing up and was a carer for her grandmother. She said doing her DofE helped her mental health and changed her life more than she could have imagined. Meryem James (centre), 22, from Kilburn, initially turned down the chance to do her gold DofE after becoming disengaged at school. But after she became a mother, she returned to studying and took up the chance to complete her DofE

The service gave thanks for the duke’s dedication to family, nation and Commonwealth and recognise his legacy in creating opportunities for young people, promoting conservation and supporting the Armed Forces

The awards have moved with the times and now include activities such as vlogging, kite-surfing and DJing alongside traditional pursuits such as bell-ringing and cross stitch.

Awards are achieved through schools, colleges, universities, youth clubs, businesses, housing associations and even in young offender institutions. Heathrow and British Gas are among the companies which deliver the scheme to their young employees.

Research has found those who complete an award are more likely to be retained by the organisation and promoted.

The intake of 2019/20 saw record-breaking numbers of young people start the DofE scheme, with 295,490 entering the programme, up 2.6 per cent.

Of those, 72,577 came from disadvantaged backgrounds. A record 159,051 awards were presented.

The prince in an interview once gave a very modest account of his involvement with the DofE.

Philip said: ‘I don’t run it – I’ve said it’s all fairly second-hand the whole business. I mean, I eventually got landed with the responsibility or the credit for it.’

Prince Philip set up the DofE scheme in 1956 after being urged by his former headmaster at Gordonstoun, Kurt Hahn (pictured), to replicate an award he had established for students at his school. Above: Philip with Dr Hahn

Philip’s youngest son, Prince Edward, attained his gold award in 1986 and was pictured laughing as he was presented with it by his father

Prince Philip presenting DofE badges and certificates to teenagers at the Liverpool Boys’ Association grounds in 1958

Shropshire winners of the Duke of Edinburgh gold award attending a reception held by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace in 1972

The Duke of Edinburgh is pictured talking to award winners in the West Midlands in 1989 – when the scheme had already been running for more than 30 years


Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes completes the silver DofE award when she was younger. She is pictured above in 2016. Former England manager Kevin Keegan also has a DofE award

Anyone who achieves a gold award is invited to a presentation attended by a member of the Royal Family. The duke himself attended more than 500 ceremonies.

After his father’s death last year, Prince Edward took over as patron.

Ruth Marvel, CEO of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said: ‘Today is an opportunity to celebrate The Duke’s incredible legacy and his vision in creating the DofE charity which has helped generations of young people develop the skills, resilience and self-belief they need to thrive, whatever life throws at them.

‘The Duke founded the DofE because he knew that, with the right opportunities, young people’s potential is limitless. 

‘Six decades on, the hundreds of thousands of young people doing their DofE continue to prove him right every day – discovering new talents and making a positive difference in communities all over the UK.’

Following the Duke’s death, the DofE launched the Living Legacy Fund in his memory, with the aim of helping a million young people by 2026. 

The DofE said that in the last 12 months it has started a youth ambassador programme and initiated projects to help the most marginalised young people by supporting youth organisations in deprived areas. 

Today’s service is being attended by more than 30 foreign royals, Philip’s family and friends and 500 representatives from charities and organisations of which he was patron.  

The Queen and Philip were married in the Abbey in November 1947 and it holds special memories.

About 1,800 guests are there. By contrast, his funeral was limited to 30 people because of Covid restrictions.

Prince Philip is seen talking with two gold award winners at a summer reception at Buckingham Palace in 1969

Boys from the Garth Secondary Boys School, Morden, Surrey, taking part in an endurance test in 1957, the year after the DofE was founded

Prince Philip is seen presenting awards in 1986. After founding the DofE award scheme in 1956, Prince Philip continued to maintain a keen interest in its progress

The Duke of York also attended, even though he paid millions this month to settle a civil sexual assault case. He denies wrongdoing.

But the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not return from the US for the service, although Harry plans to go to Holland next month to attend the Invictus Games. 

Other guests include representatives from UK Government, the armed forces and the devolved administrations, realm High Commissioners, representatives of overseas territories, members of the Queen and the duke’s household, representatives from the duke’s regimental affiliations in the UK and the Commonwealth, as well as the clergy and other faiths.

Members of several European royal families, who also distantly related to both the Queen and Philip, including the Spanish and Belgian families, have announced their intention to be there.

A Palace spokesman said last week: ‘The service will give thanks for The Duke of Edinburgh’s dedication to family, nation and Commonwealth and recognise the importance of his legacy in creating opportunities for young people, promoting environmental stewardship and conservation, and supporting the armed forces.

‘The service will in particular pay tribute to The Duke of Edinburgh’s contribution to public life and steadfast support for the over 700 charitable organisations with which His Royal Highness was associated throughout his life.’

The Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal Choirs provided music during the service.

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