At 11, Kidane Cousland could not read, and he left school aged 15 with just a handful of GCSEs, then joined army
Now the 24-year-old has graduated from Sandhurst at the top of his 200-strong class, receiving the honour earlier
After growing up without a father, the soldier beamed as he accepted the prized award from a Bahrain Prince today
Cadet said he would be dead or in prison if it had not been for the army - but his mother almost didn't let him join
His older brother Amartey is a famed artist, and younger brother Solomon was the first black British dancer to be accepted in the prestigious Royal Ballet
By JAMES DUNN FOR MAILONLINE and LARRISA BROWN AND IAN DRURY FOR DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 15:07, 15 April 2016 | UPDATED: 13:07, 18 April 2016
Kidane Cousland, 24, was today given the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, beating candidates from Oxford and Cambridge to finish at the top of his class.
Dressed in ceremonial uniform, he let off a beaming smile after being handed the honour by his Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamd Al-Khalifa, from the Kingdom of Bahrain - one of the nations that also sends its officers to train at Sandhurst.
He was handed the honour by his Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamd Al-Khalifa (pictured), from the Kingdom of Bahrain at Sandhurst today
The officer cadet, who grew up on a housing estate in Tottenham, north London, has graduated from Sandhurst at the top of his class – having even beaten Oxbridge graduates in the academic challenges
The son of a single mother and social worker, he worked his way up the ranks and today became one of only a handful of mixed-race officers to be given the award, graduating as the best of his 200-strong intake
He worked his way up the ranks and today became one of only a handful of mixed-race officers to ever be given the prestigious award, graduating as the best of his 200-strong intake.
The son of a single mother, Officer Cadet Cousland never knew his father, and grew up on a tough north London housing estate.
At age 11, he was unable to read, but he and his brothers have all gone on to become leading talents in their respective fields, with one of the trio a famed artist, and the other became the first black British dancer to be accepted into the Royal Ballet.
Last night OCdt Cousland – known as Danny to his comrades – told the Mail that had it not been for joining the Army, he would have been dead or in prison.
He said: ‘I went to school, I was completely disconnected, I didn’t get on ... I was in a bad way really. But something I always wanted to do since I was a child was join the Army.
'And it felt like a bit of a pipe dream when I was in Tottenham, but then I said to myself if I’m good enough, they’ll pick me.
‘I either did that or my anger issues and frustration would actually see me move in a different direction, and probably end up killing me or I’d be in prison.’
At age 11 and living in a tough north London housing estate, OCdt Cousland couldn't even read, and he says he would either be dead or in prison now if it wasn't for the army
His platoon commander, Captain Lucy Mason, said he was one of the ‘relatively few’ former ordinary soldiers to have been selected to be an officer and go on to win the accolade
FROM A NORTH LONDON ESTATE TO THE TOP TABLE: THREE BROTHERS WHO DEFIED THE ODDS TO LEAD THEIR FIELDS IN ART, DANCE AND THE ARMY
Kidane Cousland is one of three mixed race brothers who grew up on a tough housing estate in north London.
But their mother, who juggled parenthood and social work, brought up three boys who eventually became leaders in their own, very different, fields.
The eldest, Amartey, born in 1988, went on to study architecture from 2007 until 2010 at Central Saint Martin's School of Art and Design, University of the Arts London.
However, after beginnings in art and design, he went on to become a renowned artist, who has displayed work all over the world in countries including Germany, Dubai and Lebanon.
Kidane joined the army at 16, however, his mother initially refused to sign the papers allowing him to sign up, believing that the army is 'for white people', according to the BBC.
Eventually she relented, and was top of his Army Selection Board at the aged 16. He attended AFC Harrogate and won Gunner of the Year at Larkhill Phase Two training, won the Commandants Certificate for top student on the All Arms Commando course at 18 years of age.
He qualified as a personal instructor, and after various deployments - including warzone Afghanistan - he trained as an officer, finishing top of his 200-strong class.
But his younger brother Solomon, who was there to see him receive the prized sword of honour for his achievement, has been groundbreaking in a very different field.
Solomon is the first black British dancer ever to be accepted in the prestigious Royal Ballet. In 2010, he was a finalist in Young British Dancer of the Year, and he has performed in shows including Don Quixote and Romeo and Juliet.
Pictured, left, is Kidane on the left with his brother Solomon, when they were growing up in north London. Kidane, known as Danny to his friends, is pictured eating a meal as a child, right
He told the BBC: 'Brought up in Tottenham, didn't know my dad, single mum, lot of conflict racially - there always is in those kind of areas where there's a low level of opportunity and, personally, a really poor level of schooling when I was there.'
OCdt Cousland accepts he did not have the easiest of starts, yet he and both of his brothers have broken barriers for people of mixed race.
One of his brothers, Amartey, is a well-respected artist, studying at the prestigious University of the Arts, London, and is work is displayed in galleries worldwide.
All I have done is tried to be the best that I can be every day
His other brother, Solomon, was the first black British dancer to join the Royal Ballet, and was at Sandhurst today to watch OCdt Cousland receive the accolade.
Solomon told the BBC: 'I'm so proud of him because getting something so huge is amazing and something to be proud of, but also, being there and seeing his journey is really inspiring.'
On coming top of his class, OCdt Cousland added: ‘All I have done is tried to be the best that I can be every day. I was told I wouldn’t be able to be an officer because of my educational background – I only had three GCSEs. It just hasn’t had time to set in.’
He told the BBC: 'For me, with my few GCSEs at a C grade to rub together, I didn't expect to be where I was, to be perfectly honest.
'But when people ask you how well you did in certain departments, academic scores, you realise I'm selling myself short and I'm a little bit better than I think I am.'
His platoon commander, Captain Lucy Mason, said he was one of the ‘relatively few’ former ordinary soldiers to have been selected to be an officer and go on to win the accolade.
‘He is incredibly professional, determined, and a great team player,’ she said. ‘He’s one of the few ex-ranking soldiers to get the sword of honour. He doesn’t have a degree like many of the others here.’
OCdt Cousland revealed his mother had initially refused to sign his Army application because she was ‘absolutely terrified by the prospect of her young mixed-race son joining up
But his mother However later relented, and aged 16 he came top of the Army selection board, later coming top of his Commando course at 18. Now he has graduated as top of his officers class
Kidane Cousland demonstrates fitness required for Sandhurst
THE PRESTIGIOUS SWORD OF HONOUR: THE AWARD EVEN PRINCE WILLIAM COULDN'T WIN
Sandhurst sells itself as a hallmark of excellence in military leadership, where the best of the best in its ranks and the armies of other countries in the world train to become even better.
The prestigious Sword of Honour takes this high standard to a new level, awarded to the most impressive of a crop that are already among the best in the world.
It is given to the Officer Cadet considered by the Commandant to be the best of the course, while there are other prizes for the best overseas Officer Cadet, and the young soldiers from the UK and overseas who gain the highest score in military, practical and academic subjects.
In 2006 it was reported that Prince William, pictured as he was inspected by the Queen during the Sovereign's Parade, was in the running to receive the prize, but he and his fellow cadets missed out to Angela Laycock (right), who was only the third female officer to be given the award
Historically, the swords were formerly made Wilkinson's, but after the famous company shut down their sword making division they have been presented by Pooley Sword, who also present swords for the Royal Marines and Royal Air Force. During the Second World War, with materials at a premium, a Belt of Honour was awarded instead.
Today, it was offered to Kidane Cousland, who became one of only a handful of mixed-race officers ever to achieve the accolade, the most recent being Charlie Mulira, who served with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers but is now with the Irish Guards, who was given the award in 2008.
In 2006 it was reported that Prince William was in the running to receive the prize, but he and his fellow cadets missed out to Angela Laycock, who was only the third female officer to be given the award.
Later, Senior Under Officer (SUO) Sarah Hunter-Choat, 25, became only the fourth female officer to be presented with the award, by Defence Secretary at the time Philip Hammond, on behalf of the Queen, at a passing out parade.
Today, the award was handed out by the Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamd Al-Khalifa, from the Kingdom of Bahrain, who also presented it on behalf of the Queen.
Bahrain is one of the 13 countries who send their officers to train at Sandhurst, and it is not uncommon for royals of any of these other territories to represent Her Majesty.
OCdt Cousland revealed his mother had initially refused to sign his Army application because she was ‘absolutely terrified by the prospect of her young mixed-race son joining the Army’.
She saw it as a ‘predominantly white organisation made up of some potentially quite aggressive working-class men ruled by some upper-class sorts’.
Being there and seeing his journey is really inspiring
However, she later relented, and aged 16 he came top of the Army selection board, later coming top of his Commando course at 18.
At 19, he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he served as a bombardier for six months in the 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery.
After being recommended for officer training, he started at Sandhurst in May 2015.
After graduating he will be commissioned into the Royal Artillery, and hopes to complete a Bachelor’s degree in war studies before doing a Master’s.
He told the BBC: 'I've had racism everywhere in the world and I've come to the army and had it from individuals, but as an institution, it's not about that.'
Only a handful of black, Asian, minority ethnic people have received the sword of honour.
The last black officer cadet to receive it was Irish Guard Charlie Mulira in 2008.