Duke of Edinburgh attends 500th awards presentation ceremony

More than five million people have participated in the awards scheme since Prince Philip founded it 57 years ago

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Prince Philip has attended the 500th Duke of Edinburgh gold award presentation ceremony at St James's Palace.

He founded the awards scheme, in which teenagers take on challenging tasks in a range of categories, in 1956.

At Thursday's ceremony the duke chatted with the recipients and joked with one group that they could "breathe a sigh of relief it's all over".

The scheme has had more more than five million participants since it began.

Two million of those have earned awards, including the Duchess of Cambridge, who received a gold award while at school at Marlborough College.

The gold award is the highest that can be achieved and requires each participant to work through five sections of the award - volunteering, physical, skills, expedition and residential - for a period of at least 18 months.

The 92-year-old duke spent an hour speaking to more than 360 gold award recipients on Thursday.

The Duke of Edinburgh speaks with a group of young people during a reception to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his "Duke of Edinburgh Award" The duke joked with the awards recipients at the ceremony at St James's Palace

He joked to one group who told him of the hardships of their expedition: "You were meant to suffer, it's good for the soul."

The scheme, named after the Queen's husband, has come a long way.

When it was established in 1956, one critic accused the Duke of Edinburgh of trying to create the British equivalent of the Hitler Youth.

At the beginning, it was intended only for boys. Girls became involved a few years later. At first they were offered their own category - design for living - with tips on what to wear, make-up and good manners.

Now, more than 300,000 young people are involved each year.

It is seen as one of Prince Philip's most lasting contributions. He, though, has dismissed talk of it being an important part his legacy. "It's got nothing to do with me", he told one interviewer. "It's there for people to use".

But the active 92-year-old does believe the Duke of Edinburgh's Award remains relevant because "it's part of the process of growing up".

He told another group who had just received their award that it was their "conditional discharge" and said of the certificates, "If anyone tries to get you do do it again, you should flash that at them".

Among the guests at the ceremony were three members of the same family who have received the scheme's awards.

Tony Mullins, 73, from Birmingham signed up for the scheme as a teenager in 1956 and earned a gold award. His daughter Karen Watson, 48, also achieved a gold award.

Her son, Jamie, 17, has been awarded the bronze and silver award.

Mr Mullins, who was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his decades-long involvement in the scheme, said: "I remember saying to the duke some years ago, 'If you don't enjoy it, it's not being done properly,' and he said, 'You've hit it right on the nose'.

"I suppose we matured, we learned teamwork, all of this is today's modern jargon, in those days it wasn't heard of, you had a good time with your mates and a few laughs.

"Then we in turn helped the next group, acting as instructors for them, I did around five expeditions taking other groups out."

The Duke of Edinburgh speaks with a group of young people during a reception to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his "Duke of Edinburgh Award" The duke met 360 young people who had received the highest gold award

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