A special ceremony has been held to honour some of the region's bravest and most inspirational young people.

Twenty-three children gathered at St James’ Park in Newcastle on Thursday to receive a Brave Hearts Award from the BBC Gladiator, Apollo, who is originally from County Durham.

Each child was nominated for their award, often by medical staff and social workers, from locations right across the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

They received a much-treasured Brave Hearts crystal plinth, and a gift of their choice, in recognition of the courage and strength they have shown in battling illness or adversity. 

Awards winners include nine-year-old Tyler Watts from Howden-le-Wear, Crook, who has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy and was last year diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

The citation said: “Despite the incredible challenges he has faced over the past year, Tyler has coped admirably with everything that has been thrown at him.

“He has a wonderful imagination and a love of stories that has allowed him an escape from the rigours of his treatments.

“Both in hospital and at home and Tyler has harnessed his creativity to help others, using the characters from his imagination to create bookmarks and stickers, which he has sold to raise money for the Tony Hudgell Foundation.

"Tyler’s positive outlook, great imagination and infectious laugh has inspired everyone he knows showing them how you can not only survive difficult times but also thrive.”

Noah Truman, 12, from Northallerton, who diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia just before Christmas in 2019, was also a worthy winner.

His treatment also produced some nasty side effects which made things even harder for him to deal with.

The citation for his award said: “He got through his treatment without complaint and that he is a really polite young man who co-operated with all the treatments in a really courageous way.

“As Noah has come through the treatments his sense of humour and fun has really come to the fore.”

The award ceremony included personal contributions and reactions, not just from the children and their families, but also from many of Brave Hearts big supporters over the years, including charity patron Mark Knopler, Alan Shearer, CHUF the Childrens' Heart Unit Fund, and Young Lives versus Cancer (formerly CLIC Sargeant) at the RVI Hospital.

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Jim Knight, spokesman for the Brave Hearts of the North East charity, said: “These are some of the most deserving and inspirational children you could ever hope to meet and the ceremony is always an emotional and hugely uplifting event.

“Each young Brave Heart has a humbling and inspiring story to tell.

“Each child, and their family, facing their own personal battle and each finding their own particular way of coping.

“Their efforts, and the spirit with which they deal with such adversity, is a massive inspiration to those around them, and that's why the Brave Hearts charity feel they should be recognised in this way, and it's why they are nominated to receive Brave Hearts awards.

“An extra thrill for the children at the award ceremony this time was the arrival of the exciting BBC Gladiator who helped to present the awards on the day.”

Apollo, real name Alex Gray, is 32 and from Bishop Auckland.

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He was educated at Barnard Castle School and was an England youth rugby captain, playing the game professionally for Newcastle Falcons, London Irish and Yorkshire Carnegie.

In 2017 he left rugby and joined the NFL in America playing three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons before returning to the UK.

He joined the cast of Gladiators in 2024.

Mr Knight said: “Apollo said he had been looking forward to meeting all the young Bravehearts.”