New Year Honours: First black professor knighted

A LEADING activist for the rights of Asian women and a prominent anti-racism campaigner are among the Scots recognised in the New Year Honours list.

Professor Geoff Palmer receives a knighthood. Picture: Bill Henry

Food writers and chefs, a hairdressing guru, the former head of security at the Scottish Parliament, a leading arts administrator and a painter who turns 101 today have also been honoured.

Professor Geoff Palmer, who became Scotland’s first black professor in 1989, was knighted for services to human rights, science and charity. He was named one of Britain’s 100 “great black Britons” in a poll six years ago.

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The internationally-renowned brewing expert, who is a professor emeritus in the school of life sciences at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, was born in Jamaica and came to live in the UK when he was just 14.

He has been involved in race relations for at least two decades, was previously given a good citizen award by Edinburgh City Council, and was made an honorary Freeman of Midlothian, where he lives, for his charity and scientific work.

Professor Palmer, 75, said: “The honour is really a tribute to all the people who helped me out over the years, especially my mother, who came to England from Jamaica in 1948.

“My connections with the university actually go back to 1964, when I won a place as a PHD student after what I actually thought was a bad interview. I’ve been living in Penicuik ever since 1977.”

Also knighted was Professor Adrian Bird, a world-renowned genetics expert at Edinburgh University, for services to science.

Glasgow lawyer Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, 43, was awarded an OBE for services to business and to Scotland’s Asian community. She was previously named UK Asian Woman of Achievement, and she has previously been named Scottish Asian Businesswoman of the Year.

The one-time Bollywood actress recently established the Scottish Asian Women’s Association, which promotes equality and highlights the contribution of Asian women to Scottish society.

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh, also national women’s officer of the SNP, said: “All of us like to be validated for the efforts we make, and for me this is a validation of all the profile building that I and a host of others who support me have managed to achieve.

“I, alongside many others, will continue to strive to highlight the very considerable skills and talents that the Asian community brings to all of us and to encourage increased participation in public and political life in Scotland.”

Hairdressing salon founder Jennifer Cheyne was recognised for her charity and industry work with an OBE. Ms Cheyne left school in Edinburgh at the age of 15 and soon started her business empire, with the help of a £2,000 loan from her father, with a salon in the Haymarket area. She now employs about 170 people across six Cheynes salons and also runs her own charitable foundation.

Ms Cheyne, who started working in the industry at the age of 13, said: “We don’t shout about it and try to keep it low-key. It’s mainly contacts we make through the salons with clients – maybe someone struggling a bit who needs a helping hand. We like to go directly to people, rather than through other charities.

“This is a total surprise. I’ve no idea who nominated me.”

Seona Reid, former director of Glasgow School of Art, received a Damehood in recognition of her work in the creative industries. The award comes four months after she stepped down from the position she held for 14 years.

She said: “Throughout my career I have been fortunate to work with some remarkable people whose commitment to creativity and higher education has been inspiring.”

Artist Derek Clarke, the oldest member of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, was awarded an MBE in the same year as it hosted a major exhibition to mark his 100th birthday.

Arhur Watson, president of the RSA, said: “It’s amazing that exactly a year ago we were preparing to open the exhibition and that Derek is still working away at that age.”

The award-winning cook and food writer Lady Claire Macdonald, who runs Kinloch Lodge hotel on the Isle of Skye, was awarded a CBE for services to the hospitality industry and to charity in Scotland, particularly Marie Curie Cancer Care.

The 65-year-old said: “I’m so touched to receive an award like this. I can think of so many people who are more deserving than me, I’m very humbled.”

Also honoured was another food writer, Nichola Fletcher, who established Fife’s Reediehill Deer Farm with her husband in the 1970s and went on to become a world ambassador for the meat. Ms Fletcher, who was given the MBE for her services to the venison industry, said: “When you spend your life trying to make people listen to you, it’s sometimes quite a surprise when you discover someone actually was listening after all.”

A former Edinburgh minister who became the vicar of Berwick was awarded the MBE just over a year after standing down from the post. Allan Hughes also had a distinguished military career with the Coldstream Guards and the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

Brian Wilson, who recently retired as head of security at the Scottish Parliament, was awarded an OBE both for his services to Holyrood and for his voluntary service in Fife. The father-of-two, from Kirkcaldy, said the honour was “totally unexpected”.