New Year Honours – A false Start?

Emily Dean 17 January 2013

Every January the New Year Honours List is published and, without fail, there is at least one scandal, media outcry or dodgy decision. Yet little thought is given to the entire process of deciding which standout achievers are awarded the shiny medal.

To be selected for the New Year Honours List (if you were thinking of trying), one has to be nominated by a public or private body or government department, or even a member of the general public. You are then put through to what Simon Cowell might call the “judges houses” round where, instead of lazing by a pool in a rented house somewhere exotic, you are “approved” by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary or Defence Secretary. Then comes the live final: approval by Her Majesty and some long-awaited media attention.

Olympians have, of course, dominated the honours this year. Top of the bill were Sports Personality of the Year Wiggo, and Ben Ainslie, both of whom received knighthoods, while Sarah Storey was made a dame. Mo Farah, Victoria Pendleton, Jess Ennis and David Weir were made CBEs, with Andy Murray scraping an OBE for his herculean efforts against Federer.

Also dotted amongst the philanthropists, bankers and politicians were the usual crop of showbiz stars, with CBEs for Arlene Phillips and Kate Bush, and an OBE for Ewan McGregor.

Some of the more dubious appointments were Miss Mridul Hegde’s CBE (surely ‘hedgefund’ ed.) for “services to the stabilisation of the British Banking System” and Sir Alan Budd for “services to the Office for Budget Responsibility”. Did the committees who suggested them not notice the almost definite instability of the banking system and that the budget was, at best, disappointing? All of this calls into question what exactly merits a nod in the Honours list.

Take a look at the case of entertainer extraordinaire Sir Bruce Forsyth. At 84, he has been in show business, he claims, for 70 years. Only in the 63rd year of his career were his achievements in entertaining the nation recognised by giving him a CBE. It took another seven years and an extensive campaign, including a petition to No.10, before he was eventually knighted in 2012.

Similarly, Professor John Wallwork, recently retired from Papworth Hosptial, Cambridge, after 28 years in practice, who performed the first ever successful heart-lung transplant, was only appointed CBE last year.

Compare this to the stars of 2012 who rocketed out of nowhere to snatch a coveted place on the List. Who among the general populace had ever heard of, let alone cheered on, Charlotte Dujardin or Katherine Grainger before the riveting events of last summer?

By contrast, those like Prof. Wallwork have been excelling in their careers for years without recognition. Meanwhile, poor Brucie had been slogging away in the cutthroat world of showbiz for longer than their combined ages until he got the recognition he deserved.

But let’s face it; ignoring the Olympians and Paralympians would have backfired catastrophically. It was these men and women who gave us common folk the power to say, “I’m a big fan of dressage”, “blind football is my new favourite sport” or “Usain Bolt is overrated; it’s all about David Rudisha” without either lying or coming across as a pretentious bore.

So, while they may not have put in the decades like the dedicated surgeons or our famous thesps, they can definitely be called heroes for reinflating the national pride. And where there is controversy? Well, we all like something to moan about in January other than weight gain, bad television and weather.

Emily Dean