I cannot tell you how much I admire the incredibly important work undertaken by Style for Soldiers, nor how grateful we should all be to Emma and her associates for all they do in helping injured military personnel in the difficult transition back to civilian life.
When visiting wounded service people in hospital during the Iraq and Afghan campaigns – or, indeed, during the Falklands campaign over 30 years ago − it was impossible not to be aware of the very significant changes that these injured servicemen and women had undergone and were still facing.
Here were young people in their prime, at the very peak of fitness, who had suffered devastating injuries. These injuries often led to a different career path, altered lifestyle and changes to their body image, which, in itself, can so easily and understandably lead to anxiety and depression.
The military hospital staff in Birmingham told me, and these are the people we owe another huge debt of gratitude to, I think, that for many people any alteration to the body, such as following surgery, can significantly affect self-image and self-confidence. These problems may be particularly acute in young people, who may also find the transition to adulthood tricky, particularly in a society that increasingly seems to place such value on looks and body image.
This alteration to how an individual felt about his or her body meant that some found it hard to receive visitors initially, people like me coming in and interfering, sometimes even from their own families and friends.
I recall hospital staff telling me how some people were trying to be helpful in offering to visit, but this added to the pressure felt by the injured service personnel. Each individual patient was told of any impending visits and asked if they wished to take part or not.
An interestingly, a significant proportion were quite selective in who they wished to meet and cited the fact that they did not feel comfortable enough with their injuries to allow strangers to visit, to see their injuries and to discuss them.
Rehabilitation is not, therefore, solely about rehabilitation of the body, but also from psychological scars and the resultant damage to self-esteem and self-confidence. And, if I may say so, this is where Style for Soldiers does such a magnificent job. We all know the way in which clothing can affect mood in a major way, so for injured service personnel making a new life as a civilian - which may involve a job interview - can be a thoroughly daunting task. Wearing clothing in which one looks the part can inspire self-confidence which, in turn, can contribute positively to the interview process.
The Style for Soldiers website contains numerous testimonials from injured personnel who have received some assistance from Emma and her associates. The courage and determination of these injured service people shines through, as well as their gratitude for receiving such help at a time of difficult transition back to civilian life.
For what it is worth, I can only express my heartfelt gratitude to Emma and to Style for Soldiers, for offering such an invaluable service to our military personnel who have served their country so utterly selflessly and courageously.
So for me ladies and gentlemen, it has been a very proud moment to join you all here, particularly having seen quite a few of you in hospital. Some of you probably can't remember I was even there…I used to write messages at the end of your beds on these flip boards whilst standing up, and I don’t think anyone could ever read what I said!
But then, to see you later, to see you now again several years later, walking about, running about, being rushed about by my younger son at the Invictus Games! I promise you it makes me so proud, and it is such a reward to all of us to see the fantastic difference that all those dedicated staff make who put you back together again. But also, if I may say so, to you because of your utter determination to overcome the worst challenges possible.
So, I think you are all fantastic, bless you and have a happy Christmas.