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Joan Collins and Esther Rantzen among those in New Year’s Honours

A total of 1,164 deserving men and women have been listed in the New Year’s Honours list for 2015, the Cabinet Office announced today, with 74% of the list this time containing people who have carried out “outstanding work in their communities”.

(Dame) Fiona Woolf, (Dame) Esther Rantzen, James Cordon (OBE) and Lord Ashdown (CH) are among those honoured.

(Dame) Fiona Woolf, (Dame) Esther Rantzen, James Cordon (OBE) and Lord Ashdown (CH) are among those honoured.

As well as the unsung heroes and local volunteers, the honours list also acknowledges the sustained hard work of a number of public figures for their continued contribution to public life, or charitable work. Among these recipients is television personality and founder of Childline Esther Rantzen (DBE) who has been made a Dame; actors Sheridan Smith and James Corden from the TV show Gavin and Stacey (both awarded OBEs) and a knighthood for actor John Hurt (KBE).

Each of the recipients of an honour, with the exception of the British Empire Medal, are invited to an investiture at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle during the year to receive their insignia (or for certain Scottish recipients, to the one investiture at Holyrood Palace). However all recipients are entitled to use the relevant titles and post-nominals for their award from today. British Empire medallists will receive their award from their local Lord-Lieutenant – The Queen’s representative in a county – but will also be invited to attend one of Her Majesty’s garden parties during the summer.

The Order of the British Empire

Most public honours are to the Order of the British Empire. The grades are, from highest to lowest…

GBE – Knight/Dame Grand Cross

KBE/DBE – Knight/Dame Commander

CBE – Commander

OBE – Officer

MBE – Member

Also associated with the Order is the British Empire Medal, whcih allows the holder to add “BEM” to their name.

This year there are two members of parliament who have received a knighthood/damehood, Dame Anne McGuire MP (DBE) and Sir David Amess (KBE). There is also an award of Companion of Honour, which honours ‘outstanding achievement’ within the Commonwealth, for Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. The former Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf (DBE), has been made a Dame for services to the City and the legal profession.

A rare award of the GBE (the highest grade possible in the Order of the British Empire) has also been made to Professor Sir John Bell – for services to medicine – who has already knighted back in 2009, but will now join the ranks of less than 50 people living who hold the honour of GBE.

At the other end of the scale is 103-year-old marathon runner Fauja Singh of London, widely regarded as the oldest marathon runner in the world, who has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to sport and charity.

Of the over one thousand honours in the list, 579 are women – representing an equal balance between men and women. Additionally, 45% of the top awards (CBE and above) are to women and 6% of those up for honours are from ethnic minority communities, according to the Cabinet Office.

A total of 21 men have been made Knights Bachelor (giving them the title of ‘Sir’ but no membership to any particular Order) – there is no female equivalent for Knights Bachelor, all females awarded Damehoods are admitted to an Order.

Around 10% of all the awards have gone to those working in the education sector, with 30 honours specifically for headteachers.

In what’s described by officials as a ‘rare occurrence’, two family members have been recognised on the list for separate activities. Mairi O’Keefe has been awarded MBE for services to People with Disabilities while her mother, Catriona MacKinnon, receives a BEM for services to the Gaelic language and culture.

There are also MBEs for Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the two artists who brought the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation to the Tower of London. 888,246 ceramic poppies planted in the former moat of the Tower to each represent a British and colonial life lost during the First World War.

Blood swept lands and seas of red: the Tower of London poppy artists are up for MBEs.

Blood swept lands and seas of red: the Tower of London poppy artists are up for MBEs.

Some of the less-well-known, yet significant figures on the New Year’s Honours list this year include Joyce Plotnikoff (DBE) who has been honoured with a damehood for what the official list describes as having ‘revolutionised the way the courts treat child witnesses’. Philanthropist David Verey (Kt), who almost entirely funded an art gallery at Eton College, has received the honour of knighthood as has Theodore Agnew (Kt) who has been a big sponsor of academy schools.

Each of the awards made on the Prime Minister’s list has been through several stages of review by numerous independent honours committees before being recommended to The Queen. Prospective recipients are contacted by the Cabinet Office ahead of the publication of the bi-annual list which declares the Prime Minister’s (or other minister) intention to recommend the person to Her Majesty for an award. This roundabout language is used intentionally so that a person may, if they choose, reject the honour without it being seen as ‘rejecting The Queen’. Those who refuse honours are not disclosed by the Cabinet Office during their lifetime and rejections only usually make it into the public domain where a recipient themselves announces it.

Once a recipient accepts the offer of an honour, their details are put on the final list which is presented to Her Majesty. This stage is largely a formality as The Queen isn’t involved in selecting recipients for public honours. After this, a recipient will be contacted at some point in the year by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St James’s Palace to invite them to attend an investiture in the year to receive their insignia and/or accolade.

In total, 473 people were awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours List; 243 the OBE; 107 people the CBE and 38 people made a knight or dame. 292 people were also recommended for the British Empire Medal.

Her Majesty’s personal honours are released on a separate list. These are people The Queen has personally selected, often from senior Household figures or those who have been of service to her. These recipients are appointed to the Royal Victorian Order – one of the few orders which is exclusively reserved for The Queen’s personal appointments.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also produces its own list of recipients of honours for ‘diplomatic and overseas service’. Those honoured are usually appointed to the Order of St Michael and St George, a public order used mainly for state and diplomatic honours. Among those honoured in the FCO’s list were the head of MI6 Sir John Sawers, who had his grade in the Order raised from Knight Commander (KCMG) to Grand Cross (GCMG) for ‘services to British national security’ and British Ambassador to Russia who has been awarded a knighthood (KCMG).

There is also a special award for Joan Collins, the well known actress, who has been recommended for a Damehood (DBE) for her services to charity; and for guitarist and singer Peter Asher, recommended for a CBE for services to the music industry.

The New Year’s Honours list is one of two public honours lists released in the year, the other being the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, released in time for The Queen’s Official Birthday in June. Certain honours however are awarded spontaneously throughout the year, such as gallantry awards as well as honours to particularly notable individuals.

Click here to download the full New Year’s honours list.

photo credit (composite): Mikepaws, alun.vega, first direct and Liberal Democrats. #2 David J Pearson via photopin cc

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