A royal seal of approval

A FISH expert, a gay and lesbian rights helpline co-ordinator, a church minister, a health campaigner and a hockey player.

At first glance, these Edinburgh people appear to have little in common with each other, let alone with celebrities like the rock star Eric Clapton or Who Wants to be a Millionaire TV show host Chris Tarrant. But all are among the great and the good who are being honoured in the New Year honours list today for their dedication to making all our lives better.

And while stars like Clapton and Tarrant are already household names, the honours for the Capital’s hardworking citizens are a well-earned mark of recognition for a diverse group of important people who are often little known to the general public.

Collette Thain is lucky to be alive to receive her award after suffering liver failure caused by a debilitating condition which went undiagnosed for years. She is among the one in every 1000 women in the UK who suffer from primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) - a progressive autoimmune liver disease with no known cause or cure.

Shocked at the lack of information and support for patients, she launched a personal crusade to improve services, setting up Edinburgh charity, The PBC Foundation. And today - almost ten years to the day when she was finally diagnosed with PBC - she will collect an MBE for services to people with PBC.

Recalling the day the official letter from the Queen arrived, the 47-year-old mother of two and former fraud investigator, of Hallhead Road, Newington, says: "It pretty much blew me away. It has come as a bolt from the blue. I can’t believe it has happened."

She is determined to use her award to further improve life for other patients who she says still suffer from lack of awareness and information. "It affects nine women to every man, but women are still not getting the treatment they should and some are dying as a result.

"I hope that now the Queen and the Government have recognised the importance of what I’m doing, doctors will too and when I write to a doctor and it says MBE after my name, he will take me seriously."

Anne Patrizio also had a very personal reason for embarking on the work for which she receives an MBE for services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Scotland. The 63-year-old from the New Town, co-ordinates a helpline run by Parents Enquiry Scotland for parents of children who are homosexual, after her own son told her that he was gay.

She says: "This award is very exciting. I think I got it because I organise the service and do the administration, but it reflects on the whole team and the value of what we do. When my son came out about 15 years ago I rang the helpline and it was the best thing I could have done. It is not because I was anti-gay, it is that when your child comes out you don’t know how to help them."

Like every year, controversy has marred the honours list - in particular when government scientist Colin Blakemore threatened to quit when it was revealed he was not put forward for an honour because of his support for animal experiments - and the Government has announced a review of the system. But one scientist who was honoured is Edinburgh’s Doctor Malcolm Windsor, secretary of the Rutland Square-based North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). The salmon expert, who will only say he’s 60-something, will receive an OBE for services to salmon conservation.

He says: "I’m very pleased because I think this award recognises what we have been trying to do for nearly 20 years. We are the only international treaty based in Scotland and I think we have been very successful in helping to conserve stocks of wild salmon.

"It has been hard, especially for countries to stop people fishing and put people out of work, but without this work we would have faced total collapse I think."

Better known among the Edinburgh award-winners is the Very Rev Graham Forbes, provost at Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Cathedral since 1990, who receives a CBE for services to public life in Scotland.

The Very Rev Forbes, 52, who serves as a lay member on the General Medical Council and chairs the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Committee, is "absolutely thrilled" with the honour.

He says: "I was very surprised, very pleased and very grateful. I have been very lucky to be involved in a range of things, not only with the cathedral but also with the GMC and with criminal justice." At 83, Margaret Street must rank among the oldest award-winners, receiving an MBE for services to the built and cultural heritage of Scotland in recognition of her role as founder of the Leith Civic Trust.

Asked how she feels about the honour, she says: "How does anyone feel? I’m an old girl. I founded the trust in 1968. The idea was to help Leith, which was a bit downhill really.

"I was particularly interested in King’s Walk [a Leith pub], which was threatened with demolition and which, I’m glad to say, still remains. I’m very pleased that Leith has accomplished so much."

at the other end of the scale 34-year-old racial equality campaigner Foysol Choudhury is among the youngest to be honoured, receiving an MBE for services to community relations. Broughton-based Choudhury, secretary of Edinburgh and Lothian’s Racial Equality Council, credits his uncle - who is chairman of the Council of Bangladeshis in Scotland and also has an MBE - with inspiring him to promote the Bangladeshi community.

He says: "My uncle, Dr Wali Tasar Uddin MBE, used to take me with him when he was doing community and charity work. I have been on the racial council since I was 17. I feel that for my age, this award is a great achievement and it will encourage me to do even more."

In sport, virtually every member of the victorious England World Cup rugby squad was on the honour’s list and Britain’s tennis hope, Tim Henman, got an OBE - a long-expected move after leaked documents suggested his name had been included to "add interest" to the list.

But there were also awards in recognition of Scotland’s sportsmen and women with an MBE for Edinburgh-born ice hockey legend Tony Hand for services to ice hockey. The 36-year-old Edinburgh Capitals’ much-decorated player-coach began his glittering career at Murrayfield, going on to represent Great Britain at under-14, under-18, and under-21 levels before becoming a leading player in the senior set-up for some years.

He managed to keep the prestigious award secret from his team, but couldn’t resist telling his wife.

He says: "I’m absolutely delighted to receive the award and hope it provides a massive boost to British ice hockey. I can’t honestly remember any other ice hockey player receiving an honour like this since I started playing for the senior team when I was 13.

"The award is for services to ice hockey and, over the years, I believe I have helped with the recognition of the sport and with its development."

Edinburgh headteacher Joyce Gilmour was also honoured with an MBE for services to education. The 45-year-old, who has been in teaching since 1978, is now headmistress of Ferryhill Primary School.

She says she was "utterly surprised and obviously delighted" by the award, and can’t understand why she got it above others who she believes deserved it more.

"I’m delighted also for the pupils, parents and staff at the school - they ought to be proud of themselves for helping me bestow such an honour," she says.

Meanwhile, veteran Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell, was knighted in the New Year honours, marking a happy end to a difficult year.

Edinburgh-based Campbell, 62, was diagnosed with a form of cancer, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, late last year but went on to make a full recovery. Of his award the foreign affairs spokesman says: "This is an unexpectedly pleasant end to what has been a rollercoaster of a year for me and my family.

"I am deeply honoured to be recognised in this way for my services to Parliament."

• Additional reporting by Barry Gordon