Arise Sir Ricky, Dame Pink and Lady Lady Gaga
Let me be the first to say it: surely the entire Australian cricket team must now be awarded honorary knighthoods, or at the very least some form of membership of the British Empire.
The series win against Pakistan matches the efforts of the 2005 Ashes-winning team. Every player in that England side was awarded the MBE (the captain getting the slightly more elevated OBE) and there are now calls for Paul Collingwood to be knighted after the England all-rounder saved the third Test against South Africa this week.
Australia’s win at the SCG came too late for the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, but there were many worthy recipients.
What a joy to see Beth Tweddle pick up a gong; so often gymnasts go unrecognised by non-Communist regimes. But all those years of grinding out bent-arm back extension rolls, splits and tumble turns that culminated in Beth winning the world gymnastics championship floor title for Britain has been honoured by a grateful nation, or at least by its monarch.
Beth is 24 and now a Member of the Order of the British Empire, along with F1 world champion Jenson Button.
And arise Sir Patrick Stewart. Yes, the bald bloke who plays Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation has gone where no Trekkie has gone before, picking up a knighthood (personally, I believe it’s a scandal that Captain James T. Kirk, aka William Shatner, never received an honorary knighthood when the Queen saw fit to bestow them on Bono, Bob Geldof and Robert Mugabe. But more of that later.)
In a great year for banking, there was due recognition for Dyfrig John, former head of HSBC in the UK, with a CBE, and Queen Elizabeth II didn’t forget rock royalty either, awarding Status Quo veterans Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi OBEs. In Britain, old rockers never die, they just become Sir Paul, Sir Elton or Sir Mick. In years to come, we are likely to see Dame Pink and Lady Lady Gaga, though Gary Glitter would seem to have cruelled his chances.
The Honours system used to mean something, and to be fair, is still valued by the many deserving military men and women, business figures, charity workers, public servants and others who genuinely contribute to society.
But Tony Blair undoubtedly devalued them, finishing off what the Tories started by rendering them in some quarters a worthless and even corrupt shemozzle.
New Labour dispensed them by the carriage-load to east London councillors, minor pop notables, millionaire Labour Party donors, union cronies, endless moderate achievers in sport, arts minnows, arts lefties and media toadies.
Then there are the politicians who, by avoiding sex and expenses scandals throughout long and mundane careers, end up in the House of Lords. If this place was a quaint anomaly before the Blair years, it is now an archaic constitutional embarrassment.
Today’s honours are so ridiculous and widespread that the likes of foodie Nigella Lawson apparently even turn them down.
In British politics, everyone who isn’t anyone seems to get gonged eventually. The UK’s new High Commissioner to Australia, Baroness Valerie Amos, was honoured by Blair in 1997. She is best known for being a passionate cricket lover, though there is no suggestion that she received the life peerage for unwavering support of England.
J. G. Ballard, author of Empire of the Sun, refused a CBE for services to literature because he was opposed to the “preposterous charade” of the honours system, he once told Britain’s The Sunday Times. “Thousands of medals are given out in the name of a non-existent empire. It makes us look a laughing stock and encourages deference to the crown. I think it is exploited by politicians and always has been.”
Laughing stock is right. Even the Queen has occasionally had to admit she gets it wrong. Robert Mugabe’s 1994 GCB (Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Bath), awarded for chivalry, was in hindsight a poor decision and was duly cancelled in 2008. Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu also forfeited his honorary knighthood, awarded for friendship towards Western democracies, while cruelly subjugating his own poor people. The Danes also saw fit to revoke his Order of the Elephant, apparently their highest honour (not sure what is worse: actually being awarded the Order of the Elephant or having to admit you were stripped of the thing).
But given our connections to the Danish royal family, an Order of the Elephant cannot be too far away for Crown Princess Mary’s fellow Tasmanian Ricky Ponting.
Lording it over Pakistan - and those jumped-up cricket pundits who got it so wrong - may have been the clincher.
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