Participants in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award undergoing a supervised expedition

Participants in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award undergoing a supervised expedition

Prince Edward is at the centre of an international controversy after he told an Australian newspaper that people were attracted to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award because they could die while undertaking it.

His comments, when asked about the death of a Sydney schoolboy while participating in the scheme, were denounced as ‘crass’ and ‘insensitive’. He admitted he had no knowledge of David Iredale’s death in the Blue Mountains in 2006, but recalled the story of the death of a participant in Britain in the early days of the award.

He told a reporter from The Australian: “All the trustees were convinced that was the end of it – that it would never go any further.

“And Lord Hunt, the man who masterminded the first successful ascent of Everest and was first director of the award, said: ‘No, no, no, do nothing – just wait and see.’”

He said after the boy’s death, numbers applying for the award skyrocketed.

He continued: “He [Lord Hunt] said: ‘There you go, that’s typical young people.’

“Suddenly the award, which was new, [its] reputation among young people was: ‘Wow, this is serious. You could die doing this.’

“And the sense of adventure, the sense of excitement, that it gave you that sort of risk element. Young people are like that still – that sense of adventure, the sense that it [death] is possible.

“Obviously we don’t want that to happen. Certainly it’s not our intention. We give them the skills to go out there and do it safely and constructively. It was just that psychology, about what makes young people tick.”

Sally Weatherson, whose son Jake, 18, received his gold DofE Award at the Sydney event which the Earl of Wessex was visiting, said the prince’s comments were “extreme”.

Prince Edward: 'a bit excited'

Prince Edward: 'a bit excited'

She said: “I think Prince Edward was a bit excited. Kids don’t want to die or put themselves in harm’s way.

“I think it’s a pretty excessive comment. No child wants that type of risk.”

David Iredale’s mother, Mary Anne, declined to comment on the prince’s views when the newspaper contacted her, but said the award scheme had serious shortcomings.

She said: “I don’t think it’s regulated well enough in Australia.”

The DofE Award was founded by Prince Edward’s father Prince Phillip, himself no stranger to controversy. The Duke of Edinburgh remains patron of the award, while Edward is a trustee.

It operates in countries across the world. At present 635,000 participants are doing DofE programmes.

A spokesperson for the award said: “The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has an exemplary safety record and has no record of a death of a DofE participant in the UK as a direct result of their DofE expedition in over 40 years. Over 182,000 participants in the UK do an expedition each year.

“The unfortunate death of a young man in the early years of the development of the DofE, which started in 1956, prompted the creation of an expedition advisory panel and a comprehensive training framework.

“The DofE expedition advisory panel, made up of expedition experts from across the UK, continues to monitor the DofE’s rules and requirements to ensure that the health and safety of young people doing a DofE expedition is paramount. This in turn ensures a safe, yet inspiring, experience for young people.

“All young people are required to undertake training according to the DofE’s expedition training framework covering all aspects relating to an expedition, including, navigation, risk management, camp craft, first aid, safety and emergency procedures.

“They must also undertake as many practice expeditions as deemed necessary by a qualified supervisor before undertaking their final qualifying expedition. Since 1956 over 4 million young people have successfully completed DofE expeditions in the UK.”

The expedition section of the award is just one of four participants have to undertake, others being a physical activity, a skills programme and a volunteering period. Gold candidates also have to undertake a five-day residential activity.

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