SINGER Van Morrison, notorious for shunning the spotlight, has been given a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
The Belfast-born music veteran, whose mix of soul, folk and jazz has won him worldwide fame and millions of fans, has been honoured for his services to music and tourism in Northern Ireland, the inspiration for many of his hits.
His best-known song, Brown-Eyed Girl, propelled him to stardom in the 1960s and, at 69, he continues to write and perform.
He is among 1,163 people recognised by the Queen for their achievements and, for the second time in honours history, female recipients narrowly outnumber men.
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne continues his glittering year with an OBE alongside TV star Martin Clunes, while 12 Years A Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and the creator of much-loved Paddington Bear, Michael Bond, have both been awarded CBEs.
US actor and artistic director of the Old Vic theatre Kevin Spacey said he feels like “an adopted son” after being awarded an honorary knighthood for services to British theatre and international culture.
Spacey, who will step down from the role in the autumn after a ten-year reign at the London arts venue, said: “I am honoured and humbled by such recognition from the Queen. I must thank the British public for being so supportive of my efforts on behalf of the Old Vic. I feel like an adopted son.”
The names of some high-profile winners were leaked days ahead of the official announcement, with newspapers reporting comedian Lenny Henry’s knighthood and Sherlock Holmes actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s CBE.
Sir Jonathan Stephens, chair of the honours committee, said he was “very disappointed” about the leaks.
Henry said learning the news gave him “a lovely feeling” and was “like being filled with lemonade”.
Ebola nurse Will Pooley, 30, who was urgently evacuated to London when he contracted the deadly virus in Sierra Leone last year, only to return to his life-saving work just months after recovering, was named an MBE for his services in tackling the outbreak in Africa.
The Suffolk nurse, who is now back in England, was the first British person to be diagnosed with the disease.
Also honoured for his major role in the Ebola crisis is Dr Oliver Johnson, whose swift actions in response to the initial outbreak saved many lives. He was awarded an OBE for his overseas service in Sierra Leone.Dr Johnson, director of King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, said: “Everything we achieved is due to the efforts of extraordinary local health workers and international volunteers, who have bravely led the fight against Ebola and did not hesitate to put their lives at risk to save others.”
Another recipient whose compassion captured the hearts of the nation is Katie Cutler, 22, who launched a fundraising campaign for disabled pensioner Alan Barnes after he was mugged outside his home.
Miss Cutler, who has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM), hoped to raise £500 for Mr Barnes after learning of the attack but was staggered to see donations rise to more than £300,000 when her appeal went viral, affording the 67-year-old a new home. She said: “It was horrible, what happened to Alan. I think it touched and affected everyone and I just wanted to help him. But receiving an award is surreal.”
Prominent sports figures who have made it on to the list include former Welsh rugby star Gareth Edwards, who was awarded a knighthood, former England footballer Frank Lampard, was named an OBE, record-breaking cricketer James Anderson, also named an OBE, and England women’s football captain Casey Stoney, currently competing in the World Cup in Canada, who was named an MBE.
Rugby star Jonny Wilkinson, who was left embarrassed after his name was wrongly reported to be in the last set of honours, was awarded a CBE for his dedication to rugby union.
A number of women’s campaigners were recognised for their work in tackling gender inequality in a list which saw 51 per cent of the awards go to women, equalling the previous highest record of the 2014 New Year’s Honours list.
However, at the top end of the list only seven women were named a dame while more than three times as many men were named knights. Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, whose successful campaign to keep a woman on a British banknote resulted in a backlash of online abuse against her, has been named an OBE for her work towards equality and diversity, while fellow feminist writer Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, was awarded a BEM.
The Cabinet Office said 7 per cent of the successful candidates come from ethnic minority communities, a small increase on recent lists, while 6 per cent consider themselves to have a disability.
Dr William Frankland, a pioneer in allergy research who first introduced the study to the UK, is the oldest person on the list to receive an MBE at 103, while 17-year-old Natasha Lambert, who has athetoid cerebral palsy, is the youngest, receiving a BEM for her work in fundraising.
Two historians instrumental in the discovery of Richard III’s remains in a Leicester council car park have been highlighted for their complex archeological work which culminated with the king’s reburial at the city’s cathedral earlier this year, following a legal battle about where his final resting place should be.
Philippa Langley and Louis Ashdown-Hill, who led the campaign to find and rebury the 15th century king, were both awarded MBEs for their tireless work piecing together the complicated case.
Mrs Langley today described it as “epic battle” which “succeeded against all the odds and informed history”.
GMB leader Paul Kenny has been awarded a knighthood in the latest honours, after a lifetime in the labour movement, for his service to trade unions.
He said: “I have accepted this as recognition of the crucial role trade unions play in society. We get denigrated for standing up against exploitation and bullying, so I’m delighted our role is finally being recognised.”
Among the politicians to feature on the list for their public service is Tory donor and friend of David Cameron Henry Angest, who was awarded a knighthood along with Simon Burns, who has been Conservative MP for Chelmsford for nearly 30 years.
Former Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, who lost his seat in May, also features.