Glitz and glamour met honour and bravery in bucketloads at the 2019 Soldiering On Awards.
At a star-studded ceremony at the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster, fifteen military groups and individuals received recognition for their high achievements on and off the battlefield.
Hosted by Carol Vorderman MBE and ex-Royal Marine JJ Chalmers, this year’s Soldiering On was the ninth instalment of the largest British Armed Forces awards on the calendar.
Their aim was to celebrate the accomplishments of the military community, by honouring serving personnel, veterans, their families, and supporting organisations.
When the youngest finalist – 11-year-old Jamie Small – was surprised with a special recognition, even the hardest hearts melted.
Watch: Jamie receives his surprise award
Jamie’s father was an Army veteran, who had served for 21 years in the Royal Logistics Corps.
In 2016, having left the Forces and struggling to adapt to civilian street, he took his own life.
Through his grief, young Jamie saw the value in helping others overcome theirs.
SSAFA had been a huge help to him and his mum Mandy, so he decided to pull out all the stops to raise £5,000 for the military charity.
Jamie was nominated in the Family Values category, which was won by the War Widows Association.
But, as award presenters and winners turned to leave the stage, host Carol Vorderman asked them all to stay put.
She said: “The judges have decided to present a second award in this category. Ladies and Gentlemen, a very special young man is here tonight…”
As Jamie’s name was announced, the room swelled in a sea of applause.
His mum Mandy, accompanying him on stage, said: “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.
“He’s such a typical 11-year-old. He’s cheeky, polite, and loving; and I never, ever want him to change from the little boy you see here now.
“To be able to channel his grief at such a young age into helping others was inspirational, and to receive such recognition from the people he wants to help is something that he'll remember forever.
“I know Chris would be looking down on him, saying: ‘That’s my boy.’”
Jamie, who was also presented with a signed shirt from his beloved Liverpool FC, added: “When I heard my name, I felt like either throwing up or fainting.
“It just makes me feel like I can help people [who need it].
“It’s a once in a lifetime [opportunity], because I don’t think I’ll ever have a friend I’ve met who would have got this far.
“When I go back to school, I’ll probably be bragging!”
The first of two public votes at this year’s awards was to honour those all-important animals who are entrenched in military life.
Presenting the Animal Partnership accolade were PC Dave Wardell and Retired Police Dog Finn – the duo whose lives changed forever when a robbery suspect turned and stabbed the German Shepherd through the chest.
Dave said: “We all know how wonderful animals can be – specifically our service animals. It’s only right that we recognise them.”
It was Bravehound who took the prize.
Watch: Winners Bravehound on the importance of animals
The charity, based in Scotland, recognises the value of placing companion dogs with veterans who are experiencing the dark swirl of PTSD.
Dr Robert Hewings, from Bravehound, added: “Animals are life-changing, and it’s as simple as that.
“They make you laugh, that’s the main thing. They make you laugh.
“We can train our dogs to do anything an assistance dog would do.
“Plus, we can train our dogs to recognise the scent of nightmares, and wake up the person from that nightmare.
“They allow people to go to sleep without having to self-medicate.”
The Education, Training and Development category was won by Walking With The Wounded, who provide employment and retraining opportunities to vulnerable veterans.
Teresa Hodgson went on stage to collect the award.
Watch: Walking With The Wounded win at Soldiering On Awards 2019
She said: “I’m hoping it raises the profile, but more importantly the profile for the people that we work with – the veterans that I work with on a day-to-day basis.
“Never give up hope. Always believe in yourself.”
Teresa added: “And if you do give up hope – borrow mine! You can have mine.”
Other winners on the night included Craig Monaghan for Sporting Excellence, Project Semaphore for the People’s Choice Award, and the Poppy Factory for Healthcare and Rehabilitation.
Lieutenant Colonel Ren Kapur MBE, who co-chairs the Soldiering On Awards, said: “I am so delighted for all those high achievers, community advocates, champions, finalists and category winners we were able to acknowledge and celebrate.
“They are all having a hugely positive impact, not only on the military community, but on wider society too.
“We will continue to provide on-going support to all our winners so that they can continue to raise the bar in whatever enterprise they choose.”