Prince William took part in the group virtual chat on the subject of online bullying
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Prince William has honoured his mother Princess Diana’s legacy by supporting young people experiencing “horrible” online bullying during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Duke of Cambridge surprised teenage ambassadors from The Diana Award, the only charity bearing her name, by taking part in a video call to show his admiration for their work in Anti-Bullying Week.
At the end of an extraordinary week, which saw William break his silence over allegations that BBC reporter Martin Bashir hoodwinked his late mother to land his infamous 1995 Panorama interview, the duke listened to four young people describe their experience at the hands of bullies before helping others with similar problems.
He said: “It’s just horrible and it’s very moving to hear you guys talk about how you want to help others and make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“That is the most important thing, that you realise this isn’t going to beat you and you want to make sure that others are not going to go through the same torment that you guys have gone through.
Princess Diana with Prince William at Wimbledon in July 1994
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“But I’m just so sorry that you’ve experienced these circumstances and these bullies. It’s heartbreaking to hear how much of an impact it’s had on your schooling, your life, and things like that.”
He told them: “Clearly, you guys have all taken this on and beaten it, which is fantastic. Because it can – and, sadly it does – get on top of too many people and some of them can’t come through it.”
The charity, created in 1997 as part of Britain’s official response to Diana’s death two years earlier, has trained more than 35,000 young people as anti-bullying ambassadors working to help victims in schools and communities.
Their work combating bullying helps many from a generation suffering heightened levels of anxiety and other mental health problems.
Despite lockdown measures for much of this year, The Diana Award has reported that 46 per cent of young people surveyed have been bullied in the past 12 months.
Diana with Prince William and Harry attend the Heads of State VE Remembrance Service in 1995
(Image: Getty Images)
William and wife Kate have in recent years used their platform and Royal Foundation charity to highlight the rise of online hate.
The duke has also called on the world’s leading social media companies to “reject the false choice of profits over values” and do more to counter cyberbullying and other problems they are creating.
Rose Agnew, 14, from Warwick, Jude Bedford, 16, from Cambridge, Paige Keen, 14, from Norwich, and Isabel Broderick, 15, from the West Midlands, shared their experiences with him.
They were invited to join a video conversation on Thursday but had no idea it would be with the future King. “No way, no way,” Rose screamed in delight.
“Well at least one of you recognised me. The other three are not quite sure…” William said, laughing.
Isabel told him she was targeted by an anonymous online account that threatened to reveal fake personal information about her at the end of Year 8.
Diana with William on a holiday to Majorca in 1988
(Image: Getty Images)
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She never found out who did it and it took her two years to even tell her mum.
“That’s a lot for you to live with, that stress, that anxiety, that pressure,” William said. “That’s horrible for you to have to live with that for so long.”
Paige was targeted by a group of boys who edited her online photos and called her “fat” or “ugly” and Jude was fed up of getting picked on.
Rose, who has suffered racist and other types of bullying and seen her school work badly affected.
She said: “When people hate you for a factor that you can’t control and that you can’t change, it just makes you feel so powerless.
Obviously there is nothing I can do to change my skin colour. And knowing that there are people that from the minute I was born essentially hated me just for that reason, definitely when I was younger I found that really hard to deal with.”
When William asked if bullying had got worse because of lockdown and everyone spending so much more time on Zoom video calls and social media before schools returned in September, Rose said: “What was being said generally when people were being bullied was a lot worse, as it had moved online, since our whole life had moved online and bullying went with it.” she said.
William, like his brother Prince Harry, has been an enthusiastic supporter of The Diana Award and attends regular events for the charity.
Tessy Ojo, chief executive of The Diana Award, said: “Young people have faced monumental changes this year. We know from our research that mental health and wellbeing is the biggest concern with many feeling isolated from their friends.
“We can’t be together in person for Anti-Bullying Week this year, but this surprise video meeting with The Duke of Cambridge has further motivated these young Anti-Bullying ambassadors to continue with their work standing up to all forms of bullying.”