Walking into Hamleys toy shop on his prosthetic legs, little Tony Hudgell gazed with delight at the hundreds of toys – and then two of them came to life and saluted him.
The six-year-old watched as the life-size Nutcracker soldiers marched towards him and removed their heads to reveal they were in fact Ant and Dec.
The unflappable youngster simply said: “That surprised me.”
But there was a further surprise for Tony, who has won the Pride of Britain Good Morning Britain Young Fundraiser Award after raising over £1.5million for the hospital that saved his life as a baby.
Dec told him: “Tony, you already know we think you are an absolute hero for all of the money you raised this summer.”
Ant added: “We love you, Tony, we really do.” The pair then revealed, hidden behind a toy dinosaur, Tony’s Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Award, in partnership with TSB.
The delighted youngster said he loved the award, adding: “I’m really happy...I’m going to hide it from my sister.”
Mum Paula says: “Tony is a massive fan of Ant and Dec, he is obsessed with them. He even wanted to change his name to Ant & Dec at one point.
“We were looking at the toys and these two life-sized Nutcrackers suddenly started talking.
“Tony looked at me, then he blurted out, ‘That’s Ant and Dec!’. He had recognised their voices and even recognised Dec’s wedding ring. They took off their disguise and Tony was so excited.”
Tony says: “I am feeling really proud I have won this award. I was really happy when I saw it was Ant and Dec – I’ve always wanted to meet them. I’d have liked to have given them a high five!”
Tony was just 41 days old when he was admitted to hospital with multiple fractures, sepsis and organ failure.
He was not expected to survive. Abused by his birth parents, every one of his tiny limbs had been broken and he had been without medical attention for up to 10 days.
But foster carer Paula Hudgell gave him a home with her husband and eight older children, and Tony thrived.
Not only did the brave youngster get back on his feet, he even found the fighting spirit to walk 10k in just 30 days on his new prosthetic legs and crutches to raise funds for the hospital that saved his life as a baby.
Paula, 53, says: “He’s proved to be a really strong and inspirational little fighter.
“He had to fight to survive and now nothing stops him.
“We were immensely proud of him winning the Pride of Britain award – for him to know he has the whole nation behind him.
“Not many children can raise £1.5m in a couple of months, and for him to be rewarded for that by Pride of Britain is fantastic. We never expected our little boy to win something like this.”
When foster carer Paula was first asked if she would consider looking after a little boy who had been very poorly, nothing could have prepared her for seeing Tony for the first time.
“They didn’t tell me the full story of what had happened,” she says. “If they had, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I just wasn’t prepared to see this tiny baby so broken, shutdown and withdrawn.
“I just couldn’t handle it at first. The nursing staff told me the full story and my initial thought was that I can’t do this, I can’t bring this tiny baby who needs so much care into our crazy house. I rang my husband, and he said it was for me to decide but he would support me whatever.
“Then Tony woke and looked at me with his big brown eyes, and I cuddled him for ages – I knew then I could not leave him.”
When Paula took Tony home to husband Mark, 56, and their family, her first thought was: “What have I done?” But the whole family fell in love with the courageous infant and they decided to adopt him.
Paula says: “I think it has been the absolute best thing for Tony.
“We haven’t wrapped him up in cotton wool and we were determined that he would achieve the best he possibly could and we would always love him and support him.”
At the age of two he had to have his legs amputated, and the family had no idea if he would ever walk.
But, in true Tony style, he has proved them spectacularly wrong.
Just before lockdown he had been learning to walk using his new prosthetic legs, and when he saw 100-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore completing his own incredible charity walking challenge on TV, Tony – affectionately known as Bear – immediately said: “I can do that.”
So the family came up with a walking challenge for Tony, more as a way of making sure they did daily walking practice with him.
But his determination captured the heart of the nation and he raised over £1.5m for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital where he is treated.
Paula says: “It is absolutely incredible that he was able to complete the challenge in just 30 days. We thought it was going to be too much for him but at the end of it he was flying.
“He can walk into school on his own now, which for any other child is normal, but for Tony it is a huge thing for him to be able to walk into class on his legs with his crutches.
“We just never expected him to be able to walk like he is doing now. It is the best thing we could ever have done with him.”