The footballer Marcus Rashford has urged the government to extend its provision of free school meals as he accepted an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list.
The Manchester United and England forward has been honoured for his efforts to ensure no child went hungry during the summer holidays, which forced the government into a U-turn over meal vouchers, and on Friday he called on Boris Johnson to extend the scheme over the half-term break, reports The Guardian.
He said: “As a young black man from Wythenshawe, never did I think I would be accepting an MBE, never mind an MBE at the age of 22.” It was a “very special moment” for himself and his family.
But he added: “The fight to protect our most vulnerable children is far from over. I would be doing my community, and the families I have met and spoken with, an injustice if I didn’t use this opportunity to respectfully urge the prime minister, who recommended me for this honour, to support our children during the October half-term with an extension of the voucher scheme, as the furlough scheme comes to an end and we face increased unemployment.”
Postponed from June to include people on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, the honours list reflects a nation’s thanks to Covid-19 heroes for countless selfless good deeds during the pandemic.
Johnson said: “This year’s honours recipients are a testament to the sort of country we are – caring, compassionate and resolute in the face of a global pandemic. The hard work and dedication of these local, often unsung heroes has helped carry us through. I congratulate them all.”
The majority of the honours go to ordinary people for their extraordinary efforts, with 414 of the 1,495 total going to those on the frontline.
With the possibility of a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, however, the honours committee has striven to steer clear of anyone whose role may later be seen as controversial.
Joe Wicks, 35, aka the Body Coach, becomes an MBE for helping children keep active and mentally fit with his online PE lessons and raising £580,000 for the NHS. He said: “To all the children, the parents, the dinner ladies, the school teachers, everybody who took part in any one of my workouts, thank you for being there.”
Derrick Evans, known as Mr Motivator, who created online home exercises during lockdown, thought he was being scammed when first asked if he would accept his MBE, and said it was “wonderful to be acknowledged in this way”.
The rapper Lady Leshurr, awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) after releasing a song reminding people to wash their hands, said: “I can’t believe that the Queen of England has noticed and commended the queen of grime.”
Away from Covid-19, there are damehoods for the former Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry and the actor Maureen Lipman. Berry said she was “overwhelmed”.
The singer and actor Tommy Steele, actor David Suchet – known for his role as Hercule Poirot – and Phil Redmond, the creator of Grange Hill and Hollyoaks, all become knights.
Sir David Attenborough, who was knighted in 1985, is now appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George. The British fashion designer Paul Smith, knighted in 2000, has been appointed Companion of Honour, the highest honour.
There are CBEs for Prof Brian Cox, the TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, the actor Adrian Lester and the singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading.
Armatrading, who moved from Saint Kitts to Birmingham aged seven, said of accepting the honour: “Sometimes people talk about the empire days. I think people have long forgotten that was the association.” The honours were just “a country acknowledging its citizens,” she added.
The government said this year’s list was the most diverse in honours history, with black and minority ethnic recipients making up 13% of the total, up from 12% in 2019. Healthcare workers make up 14%, including 41 nurses and midwives.
However, critics expressed concern about the continuing “colonial nostalgia” over the honours system. Mike McKie, the founder of Bayleaf Honours, which provides advice and support for people making a nomination for the Queen’s honours, said: “Is the word empire making the process inaccessible or, worse, distressing to potential nominees? Are people of colour being given the same opportunities as their white counterparts in order to be considered for some of these awards in the first place?” He echoed calls made in the past to replace the world “empire” with “excellence”.
A total of 4,000 nominations were received from the public from May onwards, exceeding the number the Cabinet Office normally receives in a year. Dame Louise Casey, the chair of the honours community and voluntary services committee, said this was “indicative of the public’s desire to recognise people and to celebrate them.”
One of the oldest recipients is Dabirul Islam Choudhury, 100, who is made an MBE. He raised £420,000 for the NHS by walking 970 laps of his garden in Bow, east London, throughout Ramadan. “I feel proud they have honoured me for the efforts I have done,” he said.
Margaret Payne, 90, from Lochinver, who climbed the 731-metre height of Suilven mountain on her staircase to raise £430,000 for charity, receives a BEM. “All those little donations have just built up to an enormous sum and it is amazing,” she said.
Ashleigh Linsdell, 30, an NHS nurse from Cambridge who started For the Love of Scrubs to make kit for frontline workers, is made an OBE. More than 70,000 volunteers helped make 1.2m items of PPE and 1m face coverings. “I cried when I found out,” she said of her honour.
In the education sector, Matt Hood is awarded an MBE for his prime role in founding the Oak National Academy, a suite of online resources for schools including a video lesson bank to aid the remote learning being offered by schools during lockdown.
Katharine Birbalsingh is made a CBE for her work in founding the Michaela community school in Brent in 2014, which has since achieved outstanding exam results. Birbalsingh said the honour was a tribute to her staff and Michaela Emanus, her inspirational colleague who died in 2011 and after whom the school is named. “This honour is for her and all of the team at Michaela community school, and it is so lovely that the work we have done in her name has been recognised in this way.”
The Cabinet Office said this year’s list was the first to have as many as 11% of recipients under the of 30, with Theodore Wride being the youngest at 16. Theodore is awarded the BEM for service to his community in Sunderland during the pandemic.
There are 740 women on the list, 49% of the total, which is lower than the 50.7% seen in the New Year honours list last year. Six per cent of people being honoured this time consider themselves to have a disability.