The UK’s honours system tends to incite powerful emotions. With its 660-year history stretching back to the first Order of the Garter and the pomp of formal investitures in Buckingham Palace’s ballroom, the twice-annual event can easily appear both anachronistic and irrelevant.
The Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s honours have increasingly been used to recognise community heroes, alongside the stars of public, corporate and entertainment life. With a reformed nominations process, and honours committees that are theoretically at least independent of government or sovereign, the honours are a way of recognising outstanding contributions made by loyal citizens to the community at large.
They also reflect the zeitgeist. Bankers continue to be thin on the ground and MPs are only now returning to the list, that they once thronged, following the fall-out from the expenses scandal.
UK designers had a good showing in the latest list headed by Katharine Hamnett, CBE, queen of the political slogan T-shirt. It’s hard to imagine a Labour government honouring the woman who went to meet then-prime minister Tony Blair in a T-shirt emblazoned with “Tony Blair, No War”. Other successful designers in the list were Beatrix Ong, the upmarket shoe designer, fashion designer Alice Temperley and Tanya Sarne, the designer behind fashion label, Ghost. They join Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choo, who was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday honours last year.
In the 1990s, less than 30 per cent of the honours were awarded to women while by 2010’s new year’s list that had risen to 45 per cent.
But as Roger Carr, the chairman of Cadbury at the time of its takeover by Kraft, and Martin Broughton, former chief executive of British American Tobacco and current chairman of British Airways, receive their knighthoods, I can’t help but wonder where are our successful corporate women?