William highlights ‘unique challenge’ facing emergency responders


The Duke of Cambridge has carried out his first virtual royal duty since his secret battle with coronavirus was revealed.

William made no mention of his own experience of the disease as he delivered a pre-recorded video message to open The Fire Fighters Charity’s Spirit of Fire Awards ceremony.

The second in line to the throne caught Covid-19 in April but did not make it public as he did not want to alarm the nation, with the news only emerging this week – seven months on.

In his message to The Fire Fighters Charity, which was aired just hours before England goes into a second national lockdown, the duke spoke of the “unique challenge” facing emergency responders during the pandemic.

He stressed how it was more important than ever for frontline workers to receive mental health support.

William said: “This year, the outbreak of Covid-19 has presented a unique challenge for all emergency responders, who have had to adapt to new ways of working whilst continuing to save lives and help those in need, day-in day-out.

“This is what makes the achievements that we are celebrating tonight all the more extraordinary.”

He added: “It is more important than ever that those on the frontline know where they can turn to for support.

“The work of The Fire Fighters Charity, and all of the organisations who support our blue light services, is central to ensuring the long-term health and wellbeing of our emergency responders.”


The charity offers specialist, lifelong support for members of the UK fire services community, focusing on their mental, physical and social wellbeing.

William also announced Shilla Patel, inclusion manager at the London Fire Brigade, as the winner of the organisation’s Special Recognition Award for Excellence in the Field of Mental Health.

Ms Patel launched United Minds, the Brigade’s first mental health support network, in March 2019 to break stigma and help staff to access support when they need it.

The duke told how Ms Patel had received support from the charity which allowed her to open up about her own mental health challenges.

William added: “Since then, she has made it her mission to help her colleagues feel able to do the same.

“So congratulations, Shilla. It because of the dedication of people like you that we can continue to break down barriers and ensure that everybody receives the support they need.

“Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It’s like a fire; it doesn’t choose who it will impact, it just happens." Inclusion manager Shilla Patel received support from our counselling service as well as @firefighters999#worldmentalhealthdayhttps://t.co/jn6KmUPuu7pic.twitter.com/nxDZhl5rdM

— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) October 10, 2019

“And to all tonight’s nominees and winners, thank you once again for all that you do.”

Celebrities taking part in the virtual ceremony included musician Brian May, actors Michael Sheen and Dame Julie Walters, presenter Susanna Reid, and former England footballer Les Ferdinand.

William, who was said to have struggled to breathe at one stage when suffering from Covid-19, kept his diagnosis secret from the public, not wanting to alarm the nation when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care with the virus and the Prince of Wales was recovering.

The awards ceremony is usually held in London, with a reception at Downing Street, but the pandemic meant it took place online for the first time.