Deaf woman is first to deliver British Sign Language speech at Buckingham Palace

A young deaf woman has become the first person to deliver a British Sign Language (BSL) speech at Buckingham Palace in front of thousands of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award recipients.

Hafwen Clarke, 19, from Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, told about 2,000 other recipients how she achieved the gold award, alongside Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Ms Clarke, a youth helper at St John Ambulance Cymru, said: “I’m very proud to be here so I can show the world what deaf people can do.

“Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear. We may communicate in a different language, but we are still able to communicate.

“For my volunteering section, I chose to teach other people BSL. I want to raise awareness of BSL and encourage everyone to learn just a little bit because it means deaf BSL users will have less anxiety in the community.”

She said at St John Ambulance Cymru she teaches children BSL, which she enjoys as it allows her to share her language.

“I am now a Duke of Edinburgh Cymru’s ambassador and I want to be a voice for young people with disabilities. I want to give other young people courage, hope and happiness, leading by example,” she said.

“Duke of Edinburgh taught me that if the skies get rough, I won’t give up or let my deafness stop me. Thank you Duke of Edinburgh for making me feel happy, proud and ready for anything.”

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Tim Peake and Hafwen Clarke on West Terrace. Credit Ian Smithers, DofE.
Edward with Tim Peake and Hafwen Clarke on West Terrace (Ian Smithers/DofE/PA)

Ms Clarke told the PA news agency she was “surprised” and “lost for words” while talking to Edward.

To achieve a gold award, participants must complete 12 months of volunteering, a four-day expedition, and various physical, skill-based and residential challenges.

The youngest brother of the King extended “very hearty” congratulations to the awardees.

He said: “I hope on the whole the experience of doing your award was a good one,” and added jokingly: “I’m pretty sure that there were moments when you were wondering why you were doing it.

“And if it was anything like doing mine, it was about halfway through in the expedition.

“It is a fantastic feeling that you’ll go on experiencing throughout your life.”

Edward received his gold award from his father Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, at St James’s Palace in 1986.

He also spoke with two awardees from Kyiv, Ukraine, and said: “I’m very sorry for what’s happening in your country at the moment.”

British astronaut Tim Peake also delivered a speech, recalling the skills that helped him deal with an emergency during a spacewalk with a fellow astronaut.

“Tim Kopra had a leak in his space suit’s cooling system – something that could rapidly turn into a life-threatening drowning situation. Despite this, we kept calm,” he said.

“Communicating every step of the way with not just each other but Mission Control, we monitored the size of the water bubble and successfully returned to the station within half an hour.

“It was a testament to our teamwork, communication and followership – the very same skills you’ve been honing through your Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – that allowed us to keep safe, calm and collected.”

Tim Peake gives an inspirational speech at Buckingham Palace. Credit Ian Smithers, DofE.
Tim Peake gives a speech at Buckingham Palace (Ian Smithers/DofE/PA)

Content creator Fats Timbo, author and journalist Frank Gardner, TV chef Cherish Finden, firefighter Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, stylist Ellis Ranson and McFly drummer Harry Judd and his mother Emma were also present, delivering inspirational talks on careers and life skills.

Edward became patron of the DofE award in 2023 when the King handed him the title of Duke of Edinburgh.

Philip founded the award in 1956 and held the patronage until his death in 2021.

The DofE award is open to all young people aged between 14 and 24. It is run in schools, youth clubs and other social spaces across the UK.