Published: 10 May 2021

The late Queen, who was Patron of the Royal Life Saving Society UK, shared memories of achieving her own lifesaving qualification as a young girl during a video call with the RLSS UK. The Society works across 30 Commonwealth nations with the aim of eliminating preventable death by drowning, promoting water safety, and delivering lifesaving and lifeguarding education.

The Royal Life Saving Society was founded in London in 1891, in response to the hundreds of drownings that were happening in the UK. Drowning remains one of the biggest causes of preventable death in the world today, with an estimated 235,000 deaths every year, of which 90% occur in low and middle income countries.

80 years ago, as Princess Elizabeth, The late Queen became the first young person in the Commonwealth to achieve the Society’s Junior Respiration Award, providing an example to young people and helping to establish lifesaving and resuscitation qualifications across the network of nations.

The Queen recalled her memories of receiving the Award in 1941, telling the call participants:

“I didn’t realise I was the first one - I just did it, and had to work very hard for it!”

“It was a great achievement and I was very proud to wear the badge on the front of my swimming suit. It was very grand, I thought.”

Her Majesty was hosted on the video call by Clive Holland, Deputy President of the Royal Life Saving Society, and joined by Dr Stephen Beerman in Nanaimo, Canada, recipient of the Society’s 2020 King Edward VII Cup, as well as lifesavers Tanner Gorille from Cape Town, South Africa, and Sarah Downs from Exeter, UK.

The Queen was interested to hear accounts from trained lifeguards Mr Gorille and Ms Downs, who told Her Majesty about their respective rescue efforts which led to them both receiving the Society’s Russell Medal for saving a life via resuscitation. The Russell Medal is awarded annually to someone under 18 years of age, for displaying bravery and quick-thinking under pressure.

Ms Downs received the Medal in 2018 after performing CPR on a young boy who got into difficulties whilst she was on duty at Middlemore Pool in Exeter. Mr Gorille was similarly recognised for his bravery in 2016 after performing resuscitation on a young woman whilst on volunteer lifeguard duty at one of Cape Town’s tidal pools, managing to keep the young woman stable until the paramedics arrived. The Queen praised Mr Gorille and Ms Downs for their lifesaving efforts, and putting the skills gained through their training with the Society into action.

The video call was also an opportunity for Her Majesty to virtually present Dr Stephen Beerman with the King Edward VII Cup, awarded every two years in recognition of outstanding contributions to drowning prevention. On previous occasions, the King Edward VII Cup has been presented in person by Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen congratulated Dr Beerman for over 40 years of work to draw attention to drowning as a major public health issue, from undertaking research on the ground in the hardest hit countries, to implementing Canada’s first Drowning Prevention Plan. On presenting the Cup to Dr Beerman, Her Majesty said:

“I’m very delighted to be able to present you with this Cup – a very large cup, which one day you might see if you come to London.”

The Queen’s virtual engagement with the Royal Life Saving Society comes as the United Nations have adopted a historic Resolution on Drowning Prevention, representing the formal acknowledgement of drowning as one of the biggest causes of preventable death in the world today.

The Resolution - spearheaded by Bangladesh and Ireland - sets out specific actions for each country to take to prevent drowning, and introduces an annual ‘World Drowning Prevention Day’, which will be marked for the first time on July 25th, 2021.

An edited version of the presentation can be found on

The Royal Family YouTube channel

Image credits: Buckingham Palace

Photo features L-R: Top row (L-R) – Mr Clive Holland, Her Majesty The Queen, Dr Stephen Beerman
Bottom row (L-R) – Mr Tanner Gorille, Ms Sarah Downs