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It was a night of heroes – and every single one deserved their moment in the spotlight.

Ordinary people with extraordinary tales to tell were honoured last night at The News sixth annual We Can Do It awards.

Some of them had achieved amazing personal feats or battled illness. Others had simply helped a neighbour in a time of need. But all were full of true We Can Do It spirit.

None of them summed up that spirit more than Carol Leaning, who was given the Lifetime Achievement award. She fostered more than 180 children despite her own battles with cancer. Many of her foster children, now grown up, joined her on stage as she was honoured.

The event at the New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth, was hosted for the second year running by TV presenter Esther Rantzen.

The star, who founded ChildLine and presented TV's That's Life! and Hearts of Gold, is used to hearing inspirational tales. But she was visibly moved by some of the stories of the people honoured last night.

She listened in amazement to the story of 12-year-old Andrew Day, who has cerebral palsy yet insisted on going back to school just four weeks after a gruelling operation to put a steel rod in his spine.

She shared jokes with 'Daring' Doris Long as she presented the pensioner with a certificate from Guinness World Records for being the oldest person in the world to abseil – at the age of 92.

Doris, from Hayling Island, told Esther: 'I'd love to abseil down the Spinnaker Tower for my 95th birthday. Nobody has ever done it before but maybe I can change that.'

Esther also laughed with fire hero Andy Bromfield, who rescued a neighbour from her burning house – in just his boxer shorts.

She cheekily told him: 'I bet you're glad you don't wear Y-fronts!'

During the evening she was joined by Alan Priddy, captain of Lively Lady, which is on a journey round the world with young crew members from Portsmouth.

Mr Priddy was able to briefly link up with the ship, currently in the Caribbean, via a crackly satellite phone link.

Malcolm Drew, who won Best Volunteer award for the tireless work he puts into organising the annual Mad Hatter's Tea Party for children with serious illnesses, said: 'I'm just amazed to get the award because I had convinced myself I wouldn't win. At the end of the day I was the guy who came up with the idea for the party and there are a lot of people who actually make it happen. This award really recognises that.'

The evening also included performances by dancers from Brune Park Community College, Gosport, local singer Jane Pegler and Mozydare – a band which includes the 2006 Young Drummer of the Year, James Birt, from Gosport. He has achieved amazing success as a musician despite being registered blind.

Mark Acheson, acting editor of The News, told the audience that the awards were a way of making sure good news from our area was celebrated in the newspaper.

All those taking part were nominated by readers on our weekly We Can Do It pages, and the winners were chosen by our panel of judges.

Ms Rantzen said: 'I simply couldn't resist coming back again – it is such a fantastic event.

'To meet so many extraordinary people is such a pleasure. We had tears, laughter and pure amazement.'

Don't forget the We Can Do It spirit is a year-round glory of our

area. If you know someone who deserves recognition, contact

elise.brewerton@thenews.co.uk