Strictly Come Dancing’s Johannes Radebe has shared an empowering message with thousands of Duke of Edinburgh gold award holders in the Buckingham Palace garden, telling them: “Don’t dream big. Dream huge.”
In a speech delivered from the palace’s West Terrace Steps, the celebrity told the teenagers and young adults of his own journey to success after encountering bullying at school, and racist and homophobic abuse during his on-screen stardom.
Radebe, dressed in a smart pin-striped blue suit, joined the Earl of Wessex for festival-style celebrations in the Buckingham Palace grounds for new gold award holders.
It is the first time the young people’s achievements have been formally recognised since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
South African professional dancer Radebe partnered former Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite in Strictly’s first all-male pairing in 2021.
He said of being offered a role on Strictly in 2018 and then later becoming one half of the first all-male couple: “Each of these moments also had its challenges.
“Though I have been blown away by the love and support I’ve received from the public, I also received vile messages of racist and homophobic abuse.
“Faced with such hate, I could have been tempted to hide from the world as I had once tried to do as a child.
“But dance had taught me that I belong. That I deserve to take up space.
“And I knew other young gay black men watching me on their television screens needed to hear that message too – as I often say, you can’t be what you can’t see.
“That is what gave me the resilience to get back on the dancefloor.”
He congratulated the 3,000 Gold Award holders, who were joined by 3,000 family and friends, and told them: “Don’t dream big. Dream huge. Because you have already proven to yourself that the sky is the limit – the world your dancefloor.
“And just think who you might be inspiring simply by being yourself.
“If I can make history by slaying the stage in heels, a fan and a thousand sequins, just imagine what you can do. This, my darlings, is just the beginning.”
The Queen’s youngest son Edward hailed Radebe’s words as “very inspiring”, adding: “I hope you’ll all take that message with you as you go on through life.”
Edward praised those who had achieved the scheme’s top award for persisting despite the challenges of the Covid crisis.
“I know those of you who did manage to achieve your awards during the pandemic, you had to demonstrate all the values and ethos of this award programme,” the earl said.
“You showed you can be adaptable. You showed you can persist in the face of challenges of adversity.
“You were determined to try to achieve this and I know it helped a lot of you through those times.”
He added: “I wish to add my personal and considerable congratulations to all of you that managed to do that. And to everybody that helped to try to achieve that.”
The earl is trustee of the youth scheme established by his late father, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Four stages were in place around the garden with the lawn set up with games, including a giant Connect 4, and brightly coloured over-sized deckchairs where guests sat to take selfies amid blustery conditions.
A live band played and guests were served tea and cupcakes.
TV explorer Ben Fogle, actress Nina Wadia, and entrepreneur and former Apprentice winner Tim Campbell – who are all award holders – are among those giving talks on the stages during the four events this week.
Gold award holder Felix Daglish 20, from Wandsworth, south London, also gave a speech during Monday’s celebration.
Felix, who was a stepliner at Philip’s memorial service in March, rowed across the Irish Sea with his father after gaining confidence due to his gold DofE award.
Felix, who has cerebral palsy, said: “Completing the award was huge for me. I remember it being my first taste of independence and as someone who heavily relied on others growing up – the feeling of freedom was intoxicating.
“It was then that I really realised just what I was allowing myself to miss out on. DofE helped me grow from a child into an adult.
“It’s how you respond to difficult situations that’s important and allows you to grow.”
More than 330,000 young people worked towards their DofE Awards during the first year of the pandemic, and volunteered more than 1.8 million hours in their communities, often helping the Covid relief effort.
The DofE self-development and adventure award scheme is open to any young person aged 14-24.