Blair salutes unsung heroes

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Tony Blair today paid tribute to Britain's unsung heroes at an awards ceremony in London.

He was at The Mirror's Pride of Britain Awards to honour ordinary people and inspirational celebrities who have displayed exceptional courage and determination.

Among the winners were astronaut Michael Foale, who helped repair the stricken Russian space station Mir, and cricket legend Ian Botham, who has raised more than £4.5million for cancer charities.

Mr Blair said: "This allows us to celebrate the achievements of some very special people. Those whose names do not appear in the newspapers but who have shown courage and tenacity in the most extraordinary circumstances."

He added: "It goes against the grain of our British character to draw attention to what we have achieved.

"But the Pride of Britain Awards gives us a chance to cast this modesty aside, at least for a day."

The Prime Minister, who presented a special award to the emergency services who dealt with the Paddington rail disaster, was joined by a host of celebrities from the world of pop, film and television, including Robbie Williams, Michael Barrymore and American diva Diana Ross, who had flown in specially.

Boyzone star Ronan Keating, who presented a Children of Courage award to Charley Harris, said: "It's really important to recognise the people who have been great throughout the year."

Five-year-old Charley, from Exeter, Devon, was honoured after she had both her legs and three fingers amputated after contracting meningitis.

Carol Vorderman, who hosted the event, said: "The stories of the people who received these awards are just fantastic.

"Most award ceremonies, like the Oscars and Baftas, are for the celebrities. But today the celebrities were here to honour the ordinary people who have turned disaster into triumph."

DJ Chris Evans, who presented a special award to the first British women to reach the South Pole, added: "It's a different class. It's unbelievable and humbling but it's a chance to heighten awareness of the good guys."

Oscar winner Michael Caine, who presented a representative of the Gurkhas with an International Services to Britain award, was obviously moved by the awards. He said: "I've been to some awards in my time but never one like this.

"We've all been crying out the back. If there are any actors watching you might like to know how unimportant you really are."

Many celebrities openly wept at the tales of bravery and endurance.

Gehane Gordelier, who received a Teacher of the Year award from TV quiz show host Chris Tarrant, said: "It's a great honour to be among such absolutely amazing human beings.

"It helps to give you faith in man and womankind."

She was honoured after she became headteacher of a school in Tower Hamlets, east London, where not one pupil spoke English as a first language.

Five-year-old Charlotte Carter of Trimdon, Co Durham, received a Children of Courage award from Ronan Keating after saving the life of her father, John, who fell into a diabetic coma in the bath. He said: "I'm very proud of her. It's a very emotional day."

The Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, said: "I think if Michael Caine says this is the most moving award ceremony that he's ever been to, then we're really on to something.

"The Mirror is very proud to be able to honour these special people and we are delighted with the way the ceremony went."

The awards, backed by Virgin, were voted for by Mirror readers.

A panel including Mo Mowlam, Posh Spice Victoria Beckham and Sir Trevor McDonald met to decide the winners.

Coronation Street stars Liz Dawn and Bill Roache, TV presenter Davina McCall and Sir Richard Branson were among celebrities at the two-hour ceremony at the Hilton Hotel in London's Park Lane.