Community heroes including ‘Skipping Sikh’ honoured for pandemic services

Community heroes who kept the country afloat during the coronavirus crisis have been honoured in the first royal investiture ceremony since the national lockdown.

The Prince of Wales presented awards to 32 recipients in a scaled-down ceremony at St James’s Palace in London on Wednesday.

They included “Skipping Sikh” Rajinder Harzall, who was made an MBE for services to health and fitness during Covid-19 after raising more than £14,000 for the NHS by sharing his skipping videos on social media.

The 74-year-old said Charles told him he had inspired him to try out skipping himself.

Investitures at St James’s Palace
Rajinder Harzall with his MBE following an investiture ceremony at St James’s Palace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Speaking afterwards, he said: “I’m very grateful for this honour.

“I spoke with Prince Charles and he said he will try skipping, and then he said we were born in the same month. He was very pleased.”

Asked if he would give the heir to the throne skipping lessons, Mr Harzall, who can skip at a rate of 200 jumps per minute, said: “Why not!”

Mr Harzall, who lives in Hayes, west London, moved to England from Punjab in the 1970s and became a Heathrow Airport driver.

Wearing his distinctive orange turban and “Skipping Sikh” sports jacket at the ceremony, he said: “The turban makes it harder to skip because you have to raise (the rope) higher.

“But my advice to old people is to just try – do whatever you can, even if it’s sitting down exercise – and don’t give up.”

Mr Harzall said his father, who was a soldier, taught him to skip at the age of five, and his daughter, Minreet Kaur, who attended the ceremony with him, encouraged him to share his skipping videos on Twitter.

Next year he will be taking part in the London Marathon for Mencap, which supports people with learning disabilities.

Investitures at St James’s Palace
Kathleen Mohan was made an OBE for services to vulnerable people during Covid-19 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Kathleen Mohan, chief executive of Housing Justice, was made an OBE for services to vulnerable people during the pandemic.

She said efforts during the crisis have “proven we can get people off the streets” as she was recognised for leading the charity’s efforts to house 1,000 vulnerable people last winter, which saved more than 200 lives.

Ms Mohan said: “It’s wonderful that there was a separate category for Covid-19 services because so much has been done during the pandemic.

“It feels very humbling to receive an award, and I accept it on behalf of all the people who stood behind the charity and the church groups.

“What’s happened so far has proven that we can get people off the streets.”

She added: “More of what we have had during Covid is what we need to see going forward, and more genuinely affordable housing.”

Investitures at St James’s Palace
Royal Hospital Chelsea matron Susan Williams said it was ‘amazing’ to be recognised for her work (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Susan Williams, from Hook Norton in Oxfordshire, who been a matron at the Royal Hospital Chelsea for 10 years, received an OBE for services to patients during the Covid-19 response.

She said it was “amazing” to be recognised for her work co-ordinating staff at the retirement and nursing home for 300 veterans, including those who served in Korea and during the Second World War, during a “very emotional time”.

Mrs Williams said her favourite memories included allowing relatives to visit one resident on his 100th birthday by having him sit in a tent to ensure he could not catch the virus, and when she took a governor’s dog to visit an unwell pensioner.

At the first investiture for 15 months, recipients wore face coverings and collected their insignia from a cushion in the Throne Room instead of having it pinned on their lapels by the prince.

There was no audience present and those being given awards were limited to one guest each, but the investiture was shown on large screens to those waiting their turn in the adjacent Queen Anne Room.