One of the many privileges enjoyed by the British monarch is having two birthdays each year. The Queen’s actual birthday, 21 April, is a private affair. Her official birthday, which is celebrated on the second Saturday in June (when the weather tends to be suitable for outdoor events such as the Trooping the Colour parade), is a public celebration.
A key part of that public celebration is the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, which is published in early June by The Gazette, the official newspaper of the Crown. Like the New Year Honours List, the Birthday Honours List names the individuals chosen to receive prestigious titles and other awards for their extraordinary contributions to public life.
Postponing the List’s Publication Until Autumn
In 2019, the Queen’s Birthday Honours List featured many well-loved public figures. The Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale was knighted and therefore became a Sir; and the first woman to win the Turner Prize, artist Rachel Whiteread, earned the title Dame. National treasure Olivia Colman, who’s portrayed the Queen on screen in The Crown, became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Fellow actress Cush Jumbo, who stars in another major TV drama, The Good Wife, became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Historian Dan Snow, whose wife is Lady Edwina Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster’s sister, joined the ranks of Members of the Order of the British Empire.
Who’ll be joining the Birthday Honours roll call in 2020? Currently, the public can only speculate. That’s because the monarchy and government have taken the historic decision to postpone the publication of this year’s list until the autumn.
Revising the List to Recognise Recent Heroic Acts
In a statement released on 20 May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Queen ‘has graciously agreed’ to the delay and explained the reasons for it.
The 2020 Birthday Honours List was originally compiled before the pandemic took hold. Postponing its publication for a few months or so will give the honours committees (which are composed of senior civil servants and independent experts) time to revise it in light of recent events. The aim is to ensure that people who’ve contributed greatly to the COVID-19 relief efforts are among the honourees.
As a result, it’s likely that heroic NHS doctors and nurses, in addition to other selfless key workers and volunteers, will be celebrated in due course.
As the Prime Minister pointed out in his statement, ‘There is, understandably, huge appetite across the country to say thank you to all those on the frontline’. Publicly honouring individuals who’ve gone the extra mile to support the nation is a fitting way to do that.
What’s more, waiting until the autumn will hopefully mean that the publication of the list ‘comes at a time when we can properly celebrate the achievements of all those included’. The honourees’ will surely wish to receive their awards in the traditional manner (i.e. at investiture ceremonies, which usually take place at Buckingham Palace). Later this year, social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions may be eased enough to make those celebrations possible again.
Captain Tom Moore’s Knighthood Is an Exceptional Case
Around the time the Prime Minister released his statement, people around the UK were delighted to hear that the Queen had awarded Captain Tom Moore, whose 100th birthday charity walk raised tens of millions of pounds for NHS Charities Together, a knighthood.
The WWII veteran’s honour is an exceptional case; given the awe-inspiring nature of his achievements, the Prime Minister personally recommended him for an award, and the public was quickly made aware of the outcome instead of being told in the autumn.
Captain Tom Moore’s incredibly well deserved knighthood is, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘a signal of the kind of contributions we will want to mark in the months to come’.
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