From legendary actresses to pioneering midwives and poetic teachers.
The Queen’s birthday honours list was announced over the weekend, and saw people from across the UK recognised for their contributions to British society. Not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of being honoured by the crown: Stephen Hawking, David Bowie, Nigella Lawson, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are just some of those who have turned down OBEs and knighthoods over the years. Generally speaking, however, the list is seen as a meaningful way for Her Majesty to pay tribute to people who’ve made a difference to the world around them.
Women made up 49% of those recognised in the list in the year that the UK celebrated 100 years of partial women’s suffrage, with 519 women receiving honours. (Things were notably less diverse when it came to race, with just 10% of successful candidates coming from a BAME background.) Among those women were household names like Emma Thompson, Jo Malone and Lizzy Yarnold, as well as many lesser-known women who’ve done extraordinary things – from a pioneering midwife to a 103-year-old poppy seller.
The full list of birthday honours can be seen here. Below, we’ve selected 14 trailblazing women who received new titles this weekend.
1. Emma Thompson – damehood for services to drama
2. Professor Mary Beard – damehood for services to the study of classical civilisations
She added that she did have some reservations about the idea of a damehood, not least its connection to the British Empire – “but I am still pleased that studying classical civilisation can make you Dame”.
3. Dr Frances Carolyn Saunders – damehood for services to science and engineering
Dr Saunders was the president of the Institute of Physics until 2015, and was described by the Cabinet Office as “a distinguished engineer who has been instrumental in improving diversity within STEM and attracting young people from all backgrounds into engineering”.
4. Professor Susan Hill – damehood for services to the 100,000 Genome Project and to NHS genomic medicine
The NHS will celebrate its 70th birthday in July, so it seems fitting that several honours went to people who have dedicated their professional lives to the health service. Professor Hill has been the NHS Chief Scientific Officer since 2002, and was awarded her damehood for her research into genomes.
5. Jeanette Winterson – CBE for services to literature
Writer Winterson is perhaps still best known for her first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which introduced a generation of English Literature A-level students to the story of a closeted lesbian girl growing up in a repressive religious community. In a statement, she said she hoped her CBE would help boost women’s “visibility” in the arts, adding: “We are still holding up half the sky.”
“I am so happy about the CBE, for myself of course, but because the arts are so important in our world. They are a means of connection and a way of reducing chaos,” she said.
6. Jo Malone – CBE for services to the British economy and the GREAT campaign
Legendary perfumer Malone sold her eponymous company in 1999, and now runs another hugely successful luxury fragrance brand, Jo Loves.
She was appointed a CBE – the highest honour available to women after a damehood – in part for her work on the GREAT campaign, which aims to encourage people from other countries to visit, do business, invest and study in the UK.
7. Kanya King – CBE for services to music and culture
King founded the MOBO awards in 1996, and was previously appointed an MBE in 1999. She has previously spoken about how she was spurred on by knowing that others lacked belief in her, after she dropped out of school at 16 to have her son.
“That put a fire in my belly and gave me the motivation to say, ‘Why should I not have ambition, little is expected of me’?’”
8. Keira Knightley – OBE for services to drama and charity
Knightley was appointed an OBE in part because of her extensive charity work. Over the years, the Oscar-nominated actress has campaigned for organisations including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Women’s Aid, WaterAid, Comic Relief and Unicef.
9. Lizzy Yarnold – OBE for services to sport
Skeleton racer Yarnold won gold at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang earlier this year, making her the first British athlete to defend a Winter Olympic title. She was previously made an MBE in 2014.
“I am hugely honoured as it’s been a great year for me and Team GB, and to receive it on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list means so much to me,” Yarnold said on receiving her OBE.
“I want to encourage future generations of athletes and Olympians and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for my sport and for Team GB.”
10. Veronica Donovan – OBE for services to families and babies born with foetal abnormalities
Donovan is a consultant midwife at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, where she has worked since 1999. She was only the second midwife in England to independently start screening for foetal abnormalities, a procedure known as amniocentesis.
“I am both thrilled and amazed to have received this honour. I couldn’t quite believe it when I read the letter informing me,” Donovan said in a statement. “I kept asking the question, why me?
“I have been privileged to have worked with such incredible people, who are so motivated and the couples we meet in the centre show such stoicism. It’s very humbling to be part of that.”
11. Kate Clanchy – MBE for services to literature
Clanchy, a teacher and poet from Oxford, has built up a cult following on Twitter, where she regularly shares poems written by her secondary school students – many of whom are from refugee and migrant backgrounds. A collection of those poems, titled England: Poems from A School, will be published on 12 June.
“I feel recognised, warm, seen – all the things teachers and writers so often don’t,” Clanchy said. “I’m sure [the MBE] will help me pass on warmth and recognition to my students, and I am very grateful.”
12. Rosemary Powell – MBE for services to charity work
Powell, 103, recently retired from selling poppies for the Royal British Legion after 97 years. She first began volunteering for the charity with her mother in 1921, when she was just six years old, and later lost two godfathers, three uncles, a fiancé and a brother in World War One and Two.
“It is very nice that I have been given this,” she said. “I still vividly remember selling poppies on Richmond Bridge with my mother.”
13. Menna Fitzpatrick – MBE for services to sports
Paralympic skier Fitzpatrick, 20, was the youngest person to be honoured in the Queen’s list. Earlier this year, she became Britain’s most successful Winter Paralympian, taking home one gold, two silver and a bronze medal the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.
“2018 has been non-stop with exciting things, this is definitely one of the top things that’s happened to me,” she said. “To have disability sport being honoured at the highest level is just amazing.”
14. Akeela Ahmed – MBE for services to Muslim women
Ahmed is an equalities campaigner, an organiser of the Women’s March on London and one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017. She was appointed an MBE for her work with She Speaks, We Hear, the online platform she founded to counteract negative stereotypes of Muslim women.
“I really feel that this award is not just for me but it’s for all the amazing women that I work with who are all changemakers in their own communities and doing amazing things,” she said. “I think they will feel that this is recognition for Muslim women more broadly.”
Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.
Images: Getty Images / Alexander James