Judy Leden's Commendation video transcript

Judy Leden MBE

STEPHEN SMITH: I now have great pleasure in inviting Dr Paula Holt, PVC Dean of the College of Health and Social Care, to give the commendation for the conferment of the Honorary Degree of Master of the University to Judy Leden MBE.

DR PAULA HOLT: Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, honoured guests and graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Judy Leden MBE, for the award of Honorary Master of the University.

Judy is three times World Champion in hang gliding and paragliding. Along with her husband Chris Dawes, she co-founded Airways Airsports, a flying school based at Ashbourne, Derbyshire. With multiple world records and gold medals to her name, Judy has built a worldwide reputation for her skill, fearless determination and passion for free flight.

Judy’s flying career began while she was at university in Cardiff. She started competing in 1982 and started breaking world records in 1983. She turned professional in 1988 and became the only woman in the world to earn a living as a professional hang glider pilot.

In 1989 Judy became the first woman to fly across the English Channel by hang glider following a launch from a hot air balloon at 13,000 feet over the white cliffs of Dover. She was awarded an MBE in the same year for services to hang gliding.

Judy took part in the Flight of the Dacron Eagles in 1992, a 1,000 mile, three-week hang glider migration down the rift valley in Kenya filming for the BBC 1 Classic Adventure series.

In May 1994 Judy flew a microlight from England to Jordan, a 2,250 mile expedition raising over £100,000 for Cancer Research. Six months later, she broke the World Hang Gliding Altitude record, having been towed to 41,307 feet up in the air by a hot air balloon. After releasing from the balloon, where the temperature was down to -87 degrees Celsius, Judy’s eyes froze shut and she flew blind for the first 15 minutes of the descent. This record remains unbroken.

Judy broke the World Tandem Altitude record for hang glider balloon drops in November 1998, and also broke the Tandem World Aerotowing Altitude record being towed, with passenger Matt Baker, by microlight, up to 11,020 feet.

In 2002, Judy had the amazing opportunity to fly a glider built from Leonardo da Vinci’s 500 year old drawings. It was made using only materials that da Vinci would have had access to – a linen sail with a frame of Italian black poplar and bamboo, held together with leather straps and hemp string.

In 2003 Judy and her husband spent six weeks in Patagonia making a BBC documentary about flying with Andean condors. The documentary took the same title as Judy’s autobiography, Flying with Condors.

These days Judy co-ordinates and performs flying events for films and television and teaches at her flying school. She is an incredibly inspirational teacher and motivator.

Achieving so much in a sport that was dominated by men when she first began flying in the 1980s, Judy is a wonderful role model with her ‘can do’ attitude and relentless drive and enthusiasm.

Chancellor, in recognition of her achievements in the field of hang gliding and paragliding and her impact on the local flying community, we are delighted to award Judy Leden MBE the honorary degree of Master of the University.

JUDY LEDEN: Thank you. When you say it like that it makes me sound like a nutter.

Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, and graduates of 2019. I'm greatly honoured to become part of this University's infrastructure and for me it will be a lifelong association. When I first learnt to fly I was at University and it was something that I just really wanted to do. I took my first flight, I landed face first in a cowpat and thought this is the best thing I've ever done, I want more. Nowadays, I'm known for my achievements and, bearing in mind this is a 40 year route to this gown, when you hear that list of things that's a lot of things that I've achieved, but what it doesn't say is the fact that the road to all that achievement has been paved by a lot of failure. And I have to say I've learned more from my failures than I have from my successes.

I wasn't a very proficient pilot at the beginning. There were no role models, there were no women flying in those days, and nobody to look up to, nobody in my family had ever flown, so I was kind of ploughing a new furrow. But what I did have was enormous courage and commitment to this cause, so I wasn't very good and it took me a long time and I am a testament to the power of hard work. I'm not physically predisposed to be a hang glider pilot, if I was I would be 6 foot tall, Amazonian and I wouldn't have a fear for heights, which I do have. It's a bit perverse being as I've still got that altitude record at 41,000 feet, but it's true I can't climb a ladder. So passion and determination are the things that I would give to you today.

I've been very frightened in my life. I've been very nervous about some of the things that I've done. I've not been particularly confident, but I've continued on that path so fear is not a barrier to achievement. And what I would say, what I didn't have to contend with is the social media side of things that you guys are dealing with in your lives now and my message to you also is it is not the critic who counts. If you are the one going out there trying to achieve and you fall down again and again as I did, literally and metaphorically, you will fail at times and there'll be people there pointing at you and maybe you will find that discouraging, so just ignore it and carry on along your path. I salute you as you continue on this next phase of your life and it's been lovely to sit here and watch this wonderful parade of achievement and the hard work that that involves. I’d just like to finish by saying to my daughter ‘I'm sorry I beat you to it’ - she's almost got her midwifery degree and I've beat her to her graduation so she's got to come to mine, but I will come to yours. So thank you, I'm hugely honoured and thrilled beyond measure to be here today and to have watched you all achieve what you have. The best of luck to you in this next phase of what you're doing.

Judy Leden's Commendation video

Back to Judy Leden