"When we show schools and young people what he said, it makes it cool," says Tessy Ojo of the Diana Award charity

By Simon Perry
Updated November 30, 2016 09:09 AM
Credit: Richard Stonehouse - WPA Pool/Getty Images

When Prince Harry candidly revealed his bond with a mentor during his military training, he opened the door for youngsters across the U.K to seek help.

“When we show schools and young people what he said, it makes it cool. We say, ‘If it was okay for HRH, then it is definitely okay for you,’ ” says Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award, a youth charity set up in the name of Harry’s late mother Princess Diana.

In September, Harry spoke about his closeness with a Colour Sergeant at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

“I lost my mum when I was very young, and suddenly I was surrounded by a huge number of men in the army,” the royal, 32, said. “[The sergeant] was someone who teased me at the right moments and gave me the confidence to look forward, to actually have that confidence in yourself to know who you are and to push forward and try to help others.”

Ojo tells PEOPLE, “When he talked about that, it was incredible. Having the image and video of Prince Harry helped demystified it. When HRH talks about this, we tell young people, ‘How cool is it that you have access to this as well?’ ”

Now the charity has been given $500,000 by a government company to help more young people around the country, specifically in the areas of Birmingham, Solihull, Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, York and North Yorkshire. And they published a poll which found that nearly 30 percent of those currently unemployed say a mentor would have improved their career opportunities, while a vast 82 percent of British adults did not have a mentor during their teenage years.

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Such has been the impact of Harry and the campaign that the charity now has a waiting list of schools wanting to take on the service.

While Harry has been asked to champion mentoring, his brother Prince William has been helping the Diana Award’s anti-bullying fight.

With the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death at age 36 approaching in 2017, the charity hopes to use the moment to “showcase her legacy. It’s a great time to remind people of her service and her compassion and, remind people 20 years on, what are you doing to change your world?” says Ojo.

Today her sons are working for the same ends, she believes. “Everything they do is about changing peoples’ lives, which is not different from what Princess Diana did herself,” says the executive. “She made the invisible visible – when people didn’t want to consider AIDS patients, she made them visible. In 2017, when everyone is going to talk about her, we are asking people to make a commitment to change one person’s life — by becoming a mentor.”