The Pride of Britain award show made me cry for an hour and a half this evening.  Incredible stories of incredible, ordinary people stepping outside their lives to become extraordinary.  In every single case these people went beyond what could have been expected of them, to achieve something for other people with no regard for themselves.  Decisions taken in a split second, without the time for reflection, a deep altruistic urge, an instinctive desire driving people to help strangers and loved ones in distress.

The programme began this year with an award for an air stewardess on a flight from London to Greece.  A passenger, only six months pregnant, suddenly went into labour – sudden urgent labour.  The pilot turned the plane around and made to return to London, preparing for an unscheduled emergency landing.  In the time it took, the baby was safely delivered by the stewardess and the mother made comfortable.  But at only six months old the baby stood little change of survival.  He was not breathing.  The stewardess performed CPR and then, having cleared the baby’s airwaves with a drinking straw, she kept the baby breathing using her own breath for forty five minutes until paramedics took over on the ground.   We met the baby’s parents and the tears did not stop.  Tears and standing ovations, again and again until the awards dried up.  Lots of men crying.  Lots of warm hugs.  Lots of people remembering the most upsetting times in their lives.

Four men in wonderful kilts displaying handsome Scottish knees were given an award by Gordon Brown for their roles in preventing a terrorist attack on Glasgow airport.  One of the Glaswegian warned that not even Glaswegians were allowed to get away with that sort of thing, and Gordon Brown glowed with Scottish pride.

Children who have survived cancer and used their experience to help others; a boy – still traumatised – who had kept a cleaver-wielding jealous boyfriend away from his sister and the rest of his family; a young woman who overcame a childhood of bullying, a breakdown, and a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, to find fulfillment and happiness in a life serving others; a couple who have fostered more than 300 children over twenty years, fostering in the many that spoke a knowledge that they were loved; a disabled woman who almost singlehandedly cleaned up a troubled, drug-infested, dangerous estate; a fireman who broke the rules to save a drowning woman and was applauded for having broken the rules; and this bomb disposal expert given her award in Iraq by Ewan McGregor.   

Finally, a lifetime achievement award for Sir Magdi Yacoub, Eygptian born cardiac surgeon who performed over 20,000 0perations before he retired from the National Health Service in 2001.  He carries on with his research at the NHS hospital at Harefield, and is so committed to the provision of free healthcare as a right that, a fellow consultant joked, he almost sees it as his duty to provide it all himself.  Hundreds of his patients crowded onto the stage to congratulate him as we were shown pictures of the clinics he has set up around the world.

Everyone seemed suddenly, collectively, sure of one thing.  Making other people’s lives better is the only way to make sense of this life.