New Year’s Honours


It’s that time of year again, when the worthy and the wealthy get a pat on the back from Her Majesty. The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been published.


So as the illegal Chinese fireworks explode at midnight like the opening salvos at El Alamein, and we all join hands with neighbours that we haven’t spoken to for the last twelve months in a rousing rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, this year’s list sees Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy tapped on the shoulder by HRH for services to sport. Arise, Sir Chris. It’s a Cinderella story. He sacrificed a successful career in call handling in order to ride really fast ‘round a track on a bike. For us. Her Britannic Majesty is hoping that he pedals to the Palace wearing his tight Lycra. Abs ripped, package bulging. That’d be nice. Look at that saddle, it must be like sitting on a razor blade! By knighting Chris it’s clear that HMQ shows that she’s in touch with the man and woman in the street. That she’s got her finger on the pulse. That she knows what’s going down. She’s still got Sir Chris caught on Sky+ winning his three gold medals in Beijing. She’s nearly worn it out, finger on the replay button, watching him jump up and down on the winner’s podium. Dirty minx. Also recognized for their selflessness and services to the country are the bloke who flies the Queen’s helicopter, the woman who handles the press for the Queen, some fella who feeds the pheasants until they’re ripe and plump for shooting on the Duchy of Cornwall estates, and the secretary for that pivotal event in all our lives – the Windsor Horse Show. An egalitarian bunch that reflects life in modern Britain, I’m sure you’ll concur.


Obviously the full list contains people who have made a significant contribution to their own particular field. Services to medicine. Services to mathematics. And then there are some selfless souls in the police and the army who driven by nothing more than altruism and a desire to ‘make a difference’ have climbed their own specific greasy poles. Crazy guys. Get it on, bang a gong. There’s possibly an engineer lurking in there somewhere; oily hands wiped down the back of his diesel soaked dungarees as her approaches the throne. Flat cap shoved in his pocket. No two-stroke on the ermine, I hope. But, it has to be said, by and large the list comprises anonymous civil servants and party toadies drawn from politics and industry. Not exactly the People’s Gongs that Our Tony promised us when he stormed to power back in 1997, is it? Apart from Sir Chris, obviously. Doubtless, that paragon of philanthropy and virtue Lord Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool would probably disagree with me. And say that it’s all well deserved. Look how much he’s given of himself. For us. But glancing down the list I can’t see what most of these people have actually done to be noticed in this way. Virtue is its own reward, or so they say. And in the case of Alexander Crombie – now Sir Alexander Crombie, the group Chief Executive of Standard Life (knighthood awarded for services to the insurance industry in Scotland) – so is the huge bloody fortune he’s made for himself along the way. So what do the honours represent? A gold star from teacher? A badge for winners? And what heroic deeds have these people performed to earn these honours? Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He braved strange diseases, violence, the weather and the absolute unknown. Sailing into the white spaces on the map for Queen, country and his own fortune. In the process he relieved the Spanish of a significant amount of their plundered GDP and sorted out our balance of payments deficit for half a generation. On top of which he brought back football from the Philippines. And founded San Francisco. And learned karate. In acknowledgment of his achievements and service to the country he was knighted by HRH Queen Elizabeth I on his return to our shores in 1581. Scurvy-riddled, covered in barnacles and presenting the Nation’s coffers with a big pocketful of Doubloons, I can see where she was coming from. Some bloke in a bowler hat who’s been earning a quiet fortune by pushing paperclips around a desk for the last thirty years in a comfortably heated office somewhere in Whitehall is not quite in the same league. To my mind, at least.


And did you know that as well as the semi-public dubbing ceremony held at Buckingham Palace, recipients of Knighthoods also undergo a secret ritual during which they swear a blood oath to defend the monarch’s life at times of civil unrest? TV comic David Jason, knighted in 2005 for services to comedy (worth it for the falling down in the wine bar sketch alone, you’ll no doubt agree. Je suis je reste, Rodney!) and the anti-espionage work he put in during the 1972 Cod War, carries a dagger strapped to his body at all times should the alarm ever be raised. Keen-eyed viewers might spot the weapon in some episodes of Only Fools and Horses and The Darling Buds Of May. According to an insider at ‘TV Quick’ magazine he generally wears the six-inch blade gaffer-taped to his left ankle.


It’s for the same reason that veteran actor Sir Donald Sinden always carries a length of cheese wire in his jacket pocket.


Happy New Year.


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