Bursting with passion, teenagers stood on their soapboxes to shout out about everything from gang culture to cats ruling the world in a public speaking contest last night.

Year Ten pupils from 20 schools in Barnet took part in the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, which encourages young people to communicate confidently in front of an audience.

Cheers erupted around Friern Barnet School hall as the 14 and 15-year-olds took to the stage to share their views on a variety of hot topics last night.

Contestants spoke with enthusiasm about their chosen subjects as judges including a Times Series reporter and Barnet FC players, scored them on their content, delivery and structure.

The judges collated their marks before crowning Mari-Ann Bolodeoku queen of public speaking for her empowering dialogue centred on the phrase 'you only live once'.

As her name was read out the 15-year-old punched the air and ran onstage to collect her trophy and iPod touch prize from the Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Brian Schama, and Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers.

She said: “I feel amazing. The only reason I won is because I believed I could do it – I just got out there and did the best I could.

“I wanted to get across to other young people that they can do whatever they want if they just try their best.

“Public speaking is a great way to build confidence and it helps you to express yourself and how you’re feeling.”

In second place was St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School pupil Sophia Mulcahey for her humorous speech Good Things Come in Small Packages" and in third place was St Mary’s C of E High School student Hermes Tukala for his passionate speech Football is More Than Just a Sport".

Mari-Ann will go on to represent Barnet in the London and Essex grand final in July.