A SCHOOLBOY, once dubbed Britain’s youngest police bandsman, has spoken of his pride at returning to his home county at the head of a parade of internationally-acclaimed RAF musicians.

Neil Wharton, who hails from Spennymoor and is now 40, was just 12-years-old when officials of Durham Constabulary’s brass band recognised his potential and offered him and his euphonium a place their line-up.

Six years later Neil went on to university and after being awarded a music degree joined the RAF.

Now an accomplished trombone player, his globe-trotting career has taken him and his comrades to a wide range of engagements across the world, including a Victory Parade in Moscow’s Red Square, replication of Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo in Australia and New Zealand and national services in Westminster Abbey.

He is currently a sergeant in the band stationed at the RAF College at Cranwell, in Lincolnshire, where officers and air crew are trained.

Recently he also qualified as a drum major and it was in that role he fronted the 40-strong band in Durham city centre, where they took part in a Freedom Parade.

Neil said: “I make regular visits home and was proud to lead the parade through Durham city centre, although at the time I was concentrating hard on getting everything right.”

"This the biggest parade I have done in Durham. It was for the Freedom of the City for the RAF Auxiliary Squadron.

"What made it particularly special was having my mother (Elizabeth) and brother (Graeme) be there, because they don’t really get a chance to see me in action."

Neil started learning to play in the school band at the former Tudhoe Grange Comprehensive when he was 11-years-old.

He said: “I started on the euphonium. The school had links with the Durham Police band and they came along and asked me to play for them, when I was about 12-years-old."

After school Neil went to Sheffield University, where he graduated with a music degree.

He said: “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after than. I was walking past the RAF careers office in Newcastle with my mum and she said 'why don’t you just go have a look', because I had a friend who joined the RAF as a musician.

"They said ‘We’ve actually got a vacancy at the minute’. I went for an audition and before I knew it I was starting my basic training. That was about 18 years ago.

“I am a full time musician, but also trained as part of the fighting force. I have travelled the world, been part of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle and at quite a lot of big events."

He is now on standby to help with the military response to the coronavirus crisis.