Taylor Swift paid a heartfelt tribute to a young fan and her father who walked Britain barefoot to raise £500,000 for research to cure his daughter’s rare illness.
The singer, 30, filmed a message to Hasti Brannigan, 8, and her father Major Chris after she heard he had won a Pride of Britain award for his epic 700-mile charity walk from Lands End to Edinburgh in the summer.
During his gruelling 35-day trek, he wore no shoes and carried 25kg on his back, including the tent he slept in.
Caring: Taylor Swift paid a heartfelt tribute to a young fan and her father who walked Britain barefoot to raise £500,000 for research to cure his daughter’s rare illness
Chris, who was dubbed The Barefoot Soldier, set out to raise £50,000, but in total he netted more than £500,000 to fund research into rare illnesses for children like his daughter.
Chris was presented his award by Strictly star Ore Oduba but they got an extra special surprise with a congratulatory message from Taylor.
In the filmed message, Taylor said: ‘Hi Hasti and Major Chris. This is Taylor. I just wanted to say to Major Chris that what you did fills me with so much admiration. You have raised so much money and awareness for charity.’
Incredible: The singer, 30, filmed a message to Hasti Brannigan, 8, and her father Major Chris after she heard he had won a Pride of Britain award for his epic 700-mile charity walk
She added: ‘And Hasti, you’re amazing! You’re so courageous and so inspirational. I really hope I get to meet you someday. You are the Pride of Britain!’
After receiving his Pride of Britain award, Chris, 40, said: ‘It’s an amazing honour and I’m really pleased. I hope it will really help us highlight the story of children with rare diseases in the UK.
‘We’ve had to fight so hard to get this far and there’s lots of families that are struggling in exactly the same position and we want to give them hope.’
Tribute: In the filmed message, Taylor said: ‘Hi Hasti and Major Chris. This is Taylor. I just wanted to say to Major Chris that what you did fills me with so much admiration’
Halfway through his walk, he was joined by Hasti, as they dropped off a petition at Downing Street, asking for more support for children with rare diseases.
His herculean effort has raised funds for gene therapy which will hopefully change Hasti’s life who suffers with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) for which there is no cure.
Alongside other fundraisers, the Hope for Hasti Just Giving page has raised more than £656,000.
Impressive: During his gruelling 35-day trek, Chris wore no shoes and carried 25kg on his back, including the tent he slept in
Hasti has learning difficulties and has to have different therapies and medication to prevent her condition worsening. The family found out that there is a gene therapy that might help but it is very expensive.
He said: ‘We are still fundraising. We’re trying to raise another £2million for the Hope for Hasti fundraising campaign. Once we’ve created this first ever gene therapy for CdLS, we then need to fund the clinical trials where we give it to kids that actually need it.’
Chris said that every year he watches Pride of Britain, he is stunned by the variety of fundraising efforts all across the country.
Family: Halfway through his walk, he was joined by Hasti, as they dropped off a petition at Downing Street, asking for more support for children with rare diseases
Message: Taylor added: ‘And Hasti, you’re amazing! You’re so courageous and so inspirational. I really hope I get to meet you someday. You are the Pride of Britain!’
He said: ‘Pride of Britain is simply amazing. I remember watching it last year and seeing some of the children receiving their awards and I think they are just incredible people, who faced really difficult challenges and still manage to stay positive and do amazing things.
‘We are so lucky to live in a country where people really are willing to help each other and are so selfless.’
Chris and his Iranian wife Hengameh, 41, from West Byfleet, Surrey, also have two boys – Amir, 12, and Navid, ten.
‘It was very stressful when he was on the walk. I was very worried about him,’ explained Hengameh.
Dad: Chris and his Iranian wife Hengameh, 41, from West Byfleet, Surrey, also have two boys – Amir, 12, and Navid, ten (pictured)
Good cause: Alongside other fundraisers, the Hope for Hasti Just Giving page has raised more than £656,000
‘Some days he really struggled. I would do all the backup and organising for him, answering all the messages that would come through. He had a one man tent then after the first week, people would come and offer him a place to stay. Sometimes he would stay in Army camps. It was extremely worrying for him.
‘There was one day when I contacted him and he was lying in a ditch somewhere. I thought he would not be able to carry on. Then later on, someone put a picture of him on social media, running with a group of guys and that was really powerful and I just started crying.
‘I knew then he was okay and would carry on. The days he had company I was able to relax a lot more as I knew that it was enough to keep him going mentally.’
Inspirational: Kate Garraway was dubbed ‘amazing’ by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for her resilience amid her husband Derek Draper’s COVID-19 battle during the annual Pride Of Britain Awards on Sunday evening
She added: ‘I never thought he would win this award. It’s such an honour. I’m absolutely proud of him. He really deserved this. He worked really hard for it.’
Besides Taylor, other top names honouring Britain’s unsung heroes at Pride of Britain 2020 range from HRH Prince Charles and TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to David Beckham, Ant and Dec, Stephen Fry and Dame Helen Mirren.
The 2020 Pride Of Britain Awards marked the 22nd time Carol Vorderman is fronting the ceremony.
She was joined this year by her co-host Ashley Banjo – with the pandemic rendering proceedings a little different for 2020.
Making an entrance: 22-time host of the annual Pride Of Britain Awards Carol Vorderman opened the 2020 ceremony on Sunday evening with a grand entrance, a glam look and a political dig
Carol and Ashley were joined by guest stars Holly Willoughby, Susanna Reid and Paloma Faith, who all filmed their contributions at the famous Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was lit up for the occasion with a stunning Pride Of Britain Awards set.
As the awards aired on ITV, landmarks across London, including the London Eye, BT Tower and County Hall, turned red, white and blue in celebration of this year’s winners.
Marcus Rashford and Captain Sir Tom Moore were among those honoured in the ceremony which awards the remarkable achievements of Brits who have selflessly contributed the the nation and the world.
Captain Sir Tom Moore was recognised for his efforts in raising £32 million for the NHS during lockdown.
Hero! Captain Sir Tom Moore was recognised for his efforts in raising £32 million for the NHS during lockdown
Lady in red: Carol was joined for the awards by the likes of Susanna Reid to introduce some of the winners. Susanna looked stunning in a sparkling floor-length red cocktail dress
Footballer Marcus Rashford also received a prize for his campaigns to extend the free school meals scheme over the summer.
Winners will have their awards delivered to them instead of attending a ceremony in person this year.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had already filmed a segment to thank St Bartholomew’s in London for their work during the pandemic with Good Morning Britain’s Kate Garraway.
Nominated by the public, the winners are from all walks of life, of all ages, and from all over the country.
Captain Vorders: The presenter, 54, kicked off proceedings by flying across London’s skyline at sunset, looking sensational in a glam ensemble, her blonde locks fluttering in the breeze
Since the first ceremony in 1999, royalty, prime ministers, and hundreds of leading figures from showbusiness, sport, politics and the arts have all taken part.
The awards attract an audience of around five million viewers every year in a primetime slot on ITV – making it the highest rated awards show of its kind on British television.
The winners come from tens of thousands of public nominations and stories of remarkable individuals discovered by our team of researchers. They are whittled down to a shortlist from which our judging panel, made up of celebrated figures in national life, chooses the winners.
Watch The Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards, in partnership with TSB, on the ITV Hub now.