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How The Queen’s honours process has changed for the better: An interview with Bayleaf Honours

We’ve all seen the smiling photos of actors, authors, emergency workers, and charity leaders holding up their new CBE, MBE, or OBE at Buckingham Palace, but how did they get there? And really, what are the chances of an everyday person getting honoured by The Queen?

Securing a place at an investiture ceremony is no easy feat, but up until the 1990s, it was virtually impossible for everyday heroes and heroines to find their place amongst the rich and famous.

Over the years this has changed, with the current nomination process allowing the public to easily nominate members of the community who are making a real contribution to British society. Yes, there are still plenty of famous faces who pop up at investitures, but in fact, 72 per cent of last year’s recipients were directly attributed to “outstanding community-based work.”

Mike McKie, CEO and founder of Bayleaf Honours, created his company to help demystify the honours process and assist those seeking recognition from The Queen. Bayleaf Honours provides everything from consulting for those who just want feedback on what they’ve written, to working with potential nominees to prepare their entire application for the best chances at receiving an honour.

If you’ve ever dreamed of The Queen presenting you with an OBE, or watching proudly as your loved one is honoured, McKie shared more about the changes in the honours process with Royal Central and how you can nominate a deserving person.

Kristin Contino: How has the nomination process changed over the years?

Mike McKie: Towards the end of the last century, the Honours process had gathered a controversial reputation in certain quarters; “cash-for-honours” scandals, the seemingly automatic awarding of Honours for civil servants and politicians and the outdated use of “Empire” in the title of the awards. At that point, a public nomination process was introduced for “everyday heroes” that anybody could nominate. Whilst some of the public scepticism remains, that change has made steps to democratize the nomination process.

The current guidelines for the Honours nomination process, published in 2007, were introduced to emphasise the element of “giving back” in the criteria for success. Since then, although the written guidance remains unchanged, it’s clear every year that successful nominations have a significant proportion of either voluntary, community or charity work included.

In the words of the Cabinet Office, nominations should show how the candidate has

  •  contributed in a distinctive way to improving the lot of those less able to help themselves;
  •  devoted themselves to sustained and selfless voluntary service;
  •  shown innovation or creativity in delivering lasting results.

Two of those three points are focussed on others and that guidance is clearly becoming more and more important as a greater number of award recipients come from organisations dedicated to others.

Why do you think the system has changed to include more everyday heroes?

Through austerity and societal changes, our ability to rely on the state institutions for support for disadvantaged people has diminished and the role of community organisations has become more and more important; whether they be food banks, community credit associations, mental health charities or voluntary organisations to support minority groups.

The government has been keen to recognize these organisations and, more importantly, offer the people behind them, who have worked tirelessly without reward, greater access to national recognition.

Do you think the new process works better?

Without a doubt. Although there are still “automatic” awards in the Civil Service and political life, the delight which comes from that unexpected letter and the feeling that “the country cares about the work I do” is priceless.

On a personal level, I know that the word “Empire” still causes an issue with many people and doesn’t quite feel appropriate for a multi-cultural and modern Britain. The proposal to offer winners a choice of “Empire” or “Excellence” in their award citation made recently seems to have some merit, and I know that many of my clients would welcome an ability to choose.

How can Royal Central readers nominate their local hero, and are there any do’s or don’ts in preparing a nomination?

The nomination process is free and can be made easily through the Government website here. My key piece of advice for an application is to be specific – general terms of “good works” and “giving to charity” won’t be enough for a successful application. It is vital to explain what the nominee has done exactly to make things better and how they have worked for others on a sustained basis. Somebody who has just been “doing their job” won’t receive an award.

Here at Bayleaf, we offer support from writing an application in its entirety to just giving advice and reviewing your nomination or even just a free chat to see what the chances of success are.

About author

Kristin was Chief Reporter for Royal Central until 2022 and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.