Covid heroes celebrated in Queen's Birthday Honours

11 June 2021, 22:30

The Queen's Birthday Honours will celebrate heroes from taxi drivers to scientists
The Queen's Birthday Honours will celebrate heroes from taxi drivers to scientists. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

The Queen’s Birthday Honours will celebrate the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic, from scientists to members of the public.

Nearly a quarter of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List are to be awarded for Covid-related service, ranging from community work to vaccine development.

Damehoods are going to Professor Sarah Gilbert, the mastermind behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and ex-chair of the UK vaccine taskforce Kate Bingham.

Ms Bingham hailed the jab development as “a triumph of scientific and industrial collaboration”.

A multitude of other specialists from across the scientific community are also being honoured for efforts in developing vaccines, running clinical trials, delivering testing and tracking Covid cases.

Professor Sarah Gilbert is being recognised with a damehood
Professor Sarah Gilbert is being recognised with a damehood. Picture: PA

Awards are also going to members of the community for their efforts throughout the pandemic, ranging from running free taxis for key workers to producing food packages.

Two of those to be honoured are John Brownhill, 54, and Amanda Guest, 58, who were struck by the emotional video from Yorkshire nurse Dawn Bilbrough at the start of the pandemic.

The nurse shared a heartfelt plea for shoppers to stop stockpiling food in a video that quickly went viral.

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Moved, Ms Guest from Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, who runs a catering business and restaurant, decided then to start producing fresh meals and sending them to hospitals.

The Food4Heroes initiative delivered nearly 250,000 meals to more than 50 hospitals, ambulance stations and food banks.

"We got various different chefs who obviously had nothing to do, no work, who were really keen on helping and really keen to make these meals and without them we definitely couldn't have done this," Ms Guest said.

"I've got one chef in particular in Huddersfield who is still doing meals a year later."

As their model was replicated across the country, the pair raised almost £500,000 to help pay for their £2 meals and cover chefs' costs.

Ms Guest and Mr Brownhill said they were “shocked” and “delighted” by the honour, and hailed the army of volunteers who helped them, saying their support was “incredible”.

Mr Brownhill added that it was “incredibly rewarding” to see the community coming together, saying “you see in a time of crisis the strengths of humanity”.

63-year-old Rowhi Mahmoud Nemer, owner of Cambridge taxi firm CamCab, is also being made an MBE after he offered free rides to NHS staff during the first national lockdown that benefitted more than 100 key workers a day.

He later offered a free food and medicine delivery service to the vulnerable and those shielding, and even re-mortgaged property in order to keeping paying his staff their salaries.

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In north London, Daksha Varsani, 49, is honoured with a BEM recognising the work of the community response kitchen she founded with her partner in Wembley.

Since April last year, they have served more than 200,000 vegetarian Indian meals to NHS staff and vulnerable people in the capital, while Ms Varsani also oversaw the delivery of more than 85,000 care packages and food deliveries.

Hospitals were overwhelmed at the peaks of the first and second wave in the UK, leaving many key workers needing extra support
Hospitals were overwhelmed at the peaks of the first and second wave in the UK, leaving many key workers needing extra support. Picture: PA

Brian Jones, 68, from Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, is similarly awarded a BEM, for his voluntary work as CEO and co-founder of the Moses Project charity, which provides guidance and mentoring to young men with past and current addictions to drugs and alcohol.

During the pandemic Mr Jones delivered food to vulnerable and unwell people, and provided more than 100 meals a day when local hostels stopped feeding tenants.

In a slightly different vein, 25-year-old Rhys Mallows is honoured with a BEM after he helped repurpose a Welsh distillery firm to produce more than one million bottles of hand sanitiser amid high demand.

He said it “all becomes very real” when he saw his community in need, and knew he had the opportunity to “make a difference”.

Prue Leith is to be made a dame
Prue Leith is to be made a dame. Picture: PA

Outside of coronavirus, awards are also going to a number of sports and entertainment stars including footballer Raheem Sterling, ex-Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, broadcaster and chef Prue Leith, actor Jonathan Pryce and singer Engelbert Humperdinck.

There are also a number of awards in the political sphere, including for Labour MP Meg Hillier, Conservative former minister and South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom and veteran Labour MP for Rochdale Tony Lloyd.

In all, over 60 per cent of the awards are recognising recipients for their community work.

The list is record-breaking for diversity, with 15 per cent of recipients being from ethnic minority backgrounds.

It is also the first time since 2015 that more women than men have appeared on the list.

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As well as hailing the community work done through the year, the list also finds space to recognise the achievements of people working in more niche fields.

Geoffrey Preston, of Exeter in Devon, is made MBE for services to Stucco and plastering, while the aptly named Rebecca Oaks, from Carnforth in Lancashire, is recognised for her services to coppicing and "green wood crafts" with an MBE too.