In the week that the BBC was forced to set up an independent inquiry into allegations that reporter Martin Bashir abused his late mother’s vulnerability to persuade her to sit for an infamous 1995 Panorama interview, William surprised teenage ambassadors from The Diana Award, the only charity bearing her name, with a video call to show his admiration for their work in Anti-Bullying Week.
The charity, created in 1997 as part of Britain’s official response to Diana’s death two years earlier, has trained more than 35,000 young people as anti-bullying ambassadors working to help victims in schools and communities. Their work combatting bullying helps many from a generation suffering heightened levels of anxiety and other mental health problems.
Despite schools being closed for much of the year because of Covid-19, the charity’s anti-bullying ambassadors say abuse has just increasingly transferred online. Despite lockdown measures for much of this year, The Diana Award has reported that 46 per cent of young people surveyed have been bullied in the past 12 months.
William, whose virtual visit on Thursday had been arranged before he decided to break his silence about the controversy over Bashir’s interview, listened to four young people describe how they endured a miserable time at the hands of bullies before sorting it out and deciding to help others experiencing similar problems.
The second in line to the throne said: “It’s just horrible and it’s very moving to hear you guys talk about how you want to help others and make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“That is the most important thing, that you realise this isn’t going to beat you and you want to make sure that others are not going to go through the same torment that you guys have gone through.
“But I’m just so sorry that you’ve experienced these circumstances and these bullies. It’s heartbreaking to hear how much of an impact it’s had on your schooling, your life, and things like that.”
He told them: “Clearly, you guys have all taken this on and beaten it, which is fantastic. Because it can – and, sadly it does – get on top of too many people and some of them can’t come through it.”
Rose Agnew, 14, from Warwick, Jude Bedford, 16, from Cambridge, Paige Keen, 14, from Norwich, and Isabel Broderick, 15, from the West Midlands, shared their experiences with him. They were invited to join a video conversation on Thursday but had no idea it would be with the future King. “No way, no way,” Rose screamed in delight.
“Well at least one of you recognised me. The other three are not quite sure…” William said, laughing.
Isabel told him she suffered social anxiety after being targeted by an anonymous online account that threatened to reveal fabricated personal and sensitive information about her at the end of Year 8 in school. She never found out who did it and it took her two years to tell even tell her mother. “That’s a lot for you to live with, that stress, that anxiety, that pressure,” William said. “That’s horrible for you to have to live with that for so long.”
Paige was targeted by a group of boys who edited her online photos and called her “fat” or “ugly” and Jude was fed up of getting picked on.
Rose, who has suffered racist and other types of bullying and seen her school work badly affected, told William why she had become an ambassador trying to prevent or intervene in bullying cases involving others. “I joined The Diana Award and applied because I know what it’s like to be bullied and that’s a feeling that I want to try and prevent as many people from having as possible,” she said.
“When people hate you for a factor that you can’t control and that you can’t change, it just makes you feel so powerless. Obviously there is nothing I can do to change my skin colour. And knowing that there are people that from the minute I was born essentially hated me just for that reason, definitely when I was younger I found that really hard to deal with.”
She told the Duke: “I think there should be anti-bullying ambassadors in every school because if I had had in Year 8 a girl who know what I had been through and could have offered me advice and could have made me feel that I wasn’t alone, if I could have had that peer-to-peer mentoring that now we can offer, my life would have been so so different.
“And you know my grades wouldn’t have been as impacted and I personally wouldn’t have been impacted.”
When William asked if bullying had got worse because of lockdown and everyone spending so much more time on Zoom video calls and social media before schools returned in September, Rose suggested it was worse when people were no longer face-to-face. “What was being said generally when people were being bullied was a lot worse, as it had moved online, since our whole life had moved online and bullying went with it.” she said.
“Not only was it harder to intervene, it was harder to kind of get to the root of those problems. People would kind of forget the respect that they owe each other and how they should be treating other people. I think everyone felt a bit alone in lockdown. So because they felt so isolated from everything, definitely we saw that what bullying there was increased and what the actual topic of the bullying was became a lot worse.”
William, like his brother Prince Harry, has been an enthusiastic supporter of The Diana Award and attends regular events for the charity.
Tessy Ojo, chief executive of The Diana Award, said: “Young people have faced monumental changes this year. We know from our research that mental health and wellbeing is the biggest concern with many feeling isolated from their friends. Paige, Rose, Jude and Isabel are passionate about tackling bullying and have continued to overcome barriers during lockdown to support their peers.
“We can’t be together in person for Anti-Bullying Week this year, but this surprise video meeting with The Duke of Cambridge has further motivated these young Anti-Bullying ambassadors to continue with their work standing up to all forms of bullying.”
Published at Fri, 20 Nov 2020 06:16:31 +0000