Compelling Honours Nominations

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Ultimate Guide To Receiving A Royal Honour

Receiving an Honour is the pinnacle of a lifetime of achievement. For most people, receiving an honour ratifies the hard work they’ve been pouring into their community, field or cause for decades. We want to help more deserving people win honours like OBEs, MBEs, CBEs, Knighthoods and Damehoods. So, we’re sharing our tips for what makes up a great nomination as well as providing an analysis of the previous award winners. And it’s not just superficial. We’ve conducted a deep analysis on all the Honours awarded since 1998.

We looked for word frequency within the citations for the most in-depth analysis ever performed on Honours recipients. We’re even highlighting specific words which reflect the chances of winning. Our analysis includes the inclusion of certain sports over others, regional prevalence and diversity themes within the Honours list. We’ll share our tips for writing compelling nominations, explain how we support in the process and provide an overview of the awards as an institution. All in, we’ve created the Ultimate Guide to Receiving a Royal Honour and that starts with our summary of the available awards; what you can win and how.

What Are The Different Honours Awards?

There is a range of different honours that one can receive. As we’ll explain later, you’ll have no control over what type of honour your recipient will get. But the descriptions do help to suggest possible awards. It simply depends on what work your nominee is involved in. These are listed in order of seniority and are as follows:
  • Companion of Honour – for a major contribution to the arts, medicine, science or government over a long duration
  • Knight or Dame- for a major (usually national) contribution in any activity that others find inspirational and significant; the nominee’s involvement must also be over a long duration
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) – for an important but lesser national role or leading regional role or distinguished & innovative contributions overall
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) – for any major local contributions, even with national attention
  • Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) – for outstanding achievement or community service with a long-lasting impact that others can aspire to
  • British Empire Medal (BEM) – for long-term grassroots local community service, often volunteer or charity; or for really innovative short-term work with a great impact
  • Royal Victorian Order (RVO) – given by the Monarch, usually for personal service – think ambassadors or household staff

What Are The Different Orders?

While an OBE is the honour most frequently granted, you don’t need to (or get to) decide what order you’d like to be a part of. The committee decides this for you and there is a range of different orders you may be inducted into depending on your achievements or role:

  • Order of the Bath- reserved for military officers and senior civil servants
  • Order of St Michael and St George – for diplomats and UK agents abroad
  • Order of the British Empire – open to anyone
  • Companion of Honour (award) – open to anyone
  • Royal Victorian Order – for personal service to the Monarch or royals

Can You Apply For A Particular Award?

The short answer is no. You cannot nominate someone for a specific honour. The honours committee decides who is deserving of what award. The only exception is for Gallantry awards. These are given to people who put themselves in harm’s way to save (or try to save) a life. Plus, it’s the only award that can be given after death. They are judged based on awareness of the risk, how much risk to life there was and the persistence of the nominee. The gallantry awards are:

  • George Cross – the 1st civilian medal for heroism, courage and bravery in the face of extreme danger
  • George Medal – the 2nd level civilian medal for acts of great bravery
  • Queen’s Gallantry Medal – the 3rd level civilian medal for inspiring acts of bravery
  • Queen’s Commendation for Bravery or Bravery in the Air – the 4th level civilian medal for bravery in acts with risk to life; To nominate someone for a gallantry award, follow the steps listed on the government website. Your nomination will be assessed by the George Cross Committee and they make the recommendation to the King.

Who Is Eligible?

To be eligible for an award, you must be currently engaged in the activity you’re being nominated for (unless it’s for a Gallantry Award after death). The achievements must be significant on a local, regional or national level and you must have committed yourself to British service. Surprisingly, you do not need to be resident in the UK to be nominated and you also don’t have to be a UK citizen. All nominations need to be for living nominees (except for Gallantry Awards) and for individuals (unless you want to award a group for voluntary service.) If they live in the UK, you can do it online or by post if not. And there is a special inbox for COVID-19 responders and volunteers who are being nominated for their help with the pandemic. If you’re nominating a business, you’ll need to apply for a King’s Award for Enterprise instead.

What Is The Process?

Writing the nomination can be very time-consuming. If you complete the application online, you can save your progress and return to your nomination later or hire someone to help you with the process. At a base level, you’ll need to provide their:
  • Contact & identity details
  • Detailed info about the work they’ve done
  • Description of any awards or recognition, article clippings, photos etc
  • Supporting letters from at least 2 people who know them personally

Once your nomination is received, you’ll get an acknowledgement letter. But you won’t get anything else for a year or more. This is because lots of government departments have to run checks including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the committee needs the time to review all nominations. After two years with no response, assume you’ve been unsuccessful. Feel free to re-nominate if your nominee has had additional contributions that you think will warrant a second review by the committee. According to National World, the King’s Honours are published “Twice a year – at New Year and in June on the King’s official birthday, with lists published in the official newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette.”

Who Decides?

Two organisations decide on and announce the honourees two times a year. The Cabinet Office decides on domestic awards and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises on foreign award recipients. These lists are then announced at New Year and in June at The King’s official birthday. Honourees are then awarded in ceremonies called Investitures. There is a main Cabinet committee then a range of subcommittees with expertise in specific disciplines. These are:

  • Education
  • Arts and Media
  • Community and Voluntary Service
  • The Economy
  • Health
  • Parliamentary and Political Service
  • Public Service
  • Science and Technology
  • State
  • Sport

According to the government website, “Honours committees are made up of senior civil servants (‘official members’) and people who are independent of government (‘independent members’). All honours committees have a majority of members who are independent. Each honours committee has an independent chairperson. A representative from 10 Downing Street is invited to attend all committee meetings. Honours committees review honours nominations for people involved in specific activities (like arts and media or sport) which are then sent to the Main Honours Committee.” There is also a Diversity and Inclusion group that meets twice a year to look into the data and ensure the awards are reflective of diverse British society. This sense check has helped to improve the diversity of awards over the last few years, culminating in the most diverse awards ever in 2021. While there is still work to be done to reach ideal levels of inclusion, the D&I group has made significant strides.

What Do They Look For?

According to, “The UK honours system rewards people for merit, service or bravery. Honours are given to deserving and high-achieving people from every section of life: from soldiers to community volunteers, performers and leaders of industry.” People who receive awards would have made extraordinary achievements at a global, national, regional or local level. They might be recognised for:

  • community impact
  • contributions to the sciences, arts etc
  • spectacular innovation
  • incredible entrepreneurship
  • improving Britain’s reputation abroad
  • working in a voluntary capacity for a long time
  • making big change (that’s recognised by others)
  • helping the less fortunate
  • showing bravery or courage
  • achievement in the face of extreme circumstances (COVID-19)
This could relate to any field including sport, state work, science, tech, public service, political service, parliamentary service, health, economics, community or voluntary service, arts, media or education. Nominations that fall into one of these categories will go to the corresponding subcommittee for review before being recommended to the main committee. As mentioned before, other departments handle foreign applications, awards for exceptional military service or bravery.

Top Keyword Analysis

As promised, we’ve conducted the deepest analysis ever performed on all the Honours awarded since 1998. And we’ve identified some trends and reoccurring themes among the wording. Among 54,654 total keywords, we’ve identified the keywords found in the highest percentage of winning nominations going back two decades. So, if you or your nominee are associated with any of these words, you have a higher chance of winning an award. (If you’d like to know more about our methods and data, please get in touch.)

To kick off the analysis portion let’s look at the top 10 most common words across all Honours citations. Each of these words appear thousands of times:

  1. Community
  2. Education
  3. Service
  4. People
  5. Royal
  6. Voluntary
  7. Covid-19
  8. Charity
  9. Young
  10. Northern Ireland

There are some surprises here. Namely that Covid-19 features so prominently in historical analysis going back to 1998. The cause for this is the bespoke submission channel for Covid-19 responders and the huge proportion of 2021 awards given for those efforts. According to the government website, “Of those who have been awarded, 72% go to those who have worked tirelessly for their local community. This reflects the huge voluntary effort across the country in response to COVID-19, with recipients cumulatively supplying millions of free meals to those shielding, delivering care packages to NHS frontline workers and clocking up countless voluntary hours to support those at risk.” The UK Government’s determination to give back to responders has seen Covid-19 rise to prominence above nearly every other keyword.

Additionally, of the top words, most relate to serving others with a focus on ‘community’ – service, people, voluntary and COVID-19 are all or in part related to not-for-profit community support efforts. You’ll see some of those service themes continue with the next most-common words: Children, Public, Charitable, Response, Families, Care. So, it shows nominations with a significant volunteer or charity component do well. The only place appearing in the top 10 is Northern Ireland. We’ll touch on that again later in our analysis of place names.

Keywords – Further Information

Keywords in sport

  • Rugby – 61
  • Cricket – 52
  • Athletics – 42
  • Rowing – 33
  • Cycling – 33
  • Hockey – 33
  • Tennis – 25
  • Boxing – 22
  • Racing – 20
  • Riding – 20
  • Gymnastics – 19
  • Golf – 19

Rugby comes in after Football as the 2nd most common sport and perhaps that’s not so surprising at least according to sources on Wikipedia. What is unusual is the relatively low ranking of Tennis and Golf, both more common sports than Rowing within the UK. One reason for the higher ranking of Athletics and Rowing is the high number of Educators being awarded. It’s common for Professors to participate in collegiate sport activities.

Regional & location-based keywords

  • Northern Ireland– 564
  • London – 321
  • Wales – 241
  • Scotland – 234
  • Yorkshire – 222
  • Midlands – 117
  • England – 117
  • Manchester – 100
  • Kent – 94
  • Sussex – 87
  • Lancashire – 82
  • Devon – 79
  • Essex – 78
  • Surrey – 77
  • Hampshire – 74
At the top of the list is Northern Ireland. That’s quite surprising given the relatively small population size of NI. Follow that with – you guessed it- London. It wasn’t going to be too low on the list given the proportion of Brits who live in the capital. Wales comes in next, just barely edging out Scotland. The rest of the substantive list is all English towns and counties.

Keywords in diversity

  • Disabilities – 253
  • Diversity – 191
  • Heritage – 180
  • Vulnerable – 150
  • Needs (Special Needs) – 149
  • Women – 137
  • Equality – 127
  • Awareness – 94
  • Inclusion – 93
  • Culture – 79
  • Disabled – 70
  • Disability – 58
  • Women’s – 55

You can clearly see that those working with special needs, disabilities and vulnerable people feature highly amongst the most common keywords. This is due to the types of work being done by recipients in the charitable sector. Also, probably not surprising is the position of the keywords Diversity, Equality and Inclusion themselves. Applications with substantial work in this area are reviewed favourably by the committee. Lastly, work with Women or Women’s groups also features highly. That’s good! It’s a contributing factor to the recent trend of a near 50/50 split of male to female recipients. What is missing from the top of the list are any references to specific ethnicity or ethnic groups. If there is not a lot of ethnocentric work being done or the citations just fail to give specifics often enough for it to rank highly; it’s worth noting.

Other prominent keywords

Lastly, in our analysis, we’ve pulled out keywords that we found compelling, unique or interesting. Keywords that are simply fairly unusual. However, these are only keywords falling near the top of the list.
  • Military keywords – Many honourees will have had (or currently have) some sort of military career. We see the Air (Force) listed 307 times, Army 190 times, Defence 183 times, Navy 182 times, Security 181 times, Reserve 110 times, Veterans 71 times, and Marines 54 times.
  • Foreign affairs – While these mentions could be related to global impact, work abroad or military operations; overseas work is mentioned with the word Foreign 180 times, Overseas 98 times, Abroad 76 times and Exports 50 times.
  • Mental appears 124 times for work in the mental health arena.
  • Eco-conscious workers among us will be delighted to see Conservation features 114 times.
  • Holocaust work appeared 97 times with general themes of Justice 104 times and Prison 54 times.
  • Transport was mentioned 92 times with special reference to Engineers 89 times.
  • Business features very high up (391 times) but specifically, Entrepreneurship was mentioned 64 times.
  • In the arts, Dance appeared 70 times, Broadcasting 54 times and Theatre 51 times.
  • Work with Church groups appeared 54 times.
  • And lastly, Libraries were cited 51 times.

The least prominent words

It’s also interesting to look at the more uncommon terms. Think of very specialised fields or far-flung locations. The least common words are:

  • Worplesdon
  • Israel
  • Eradication
  • Polymers
  • Tsunami
  • Orphans
  • Australian
  • Serbia
  • Equatorial
  • Grassmoor
  • Temple
  • Normanton
  • Selkirk
  • Leuchers
  • Stalham
  • Movements
  • Prestatyn
  • Section
  • Durrington
  • Upminster
  • Cranham
  • Etwall
  • Lizard
  • Helpline
  • Helston
  • Burwash
  • Holymoorside
  • Aldeburgh
  • Sherington
  • Neuro
  • Skokholm
  • Withcote
  • Shurdington
  • Stephens
  • Drop-In
  • Twickenham
  • Throckley
  • Torquay
  • Titchmarsh
  • Bungay
  • Chesham
  • Downland
  • Benefice
  • Paddington
  • Colwall
You’ll notice most of these words are place names. That means even people from very small places do find their way into the Queen’s Honours list. There are also a few scientific terms that may not appear in other awards due to their complexity like Polymers and Neuro.

Tips To Craft A Better Award Submission

Well, is it enough to pepper high performing keywords throughout your submission and send it through? Probably not. In our many years of helping nominators write successful submissions, we have learned a few tips:

  • Be specific – You’re competing on a global stage where the other nominees will have suitably impressive achievements. To stand out, you need to provide concrete examples. Use statistics and hard numbers to make your case for ‘significant impact’ and improve your chances.
  • Supporter letters – Supporters must not simply know you, they must be intimately familiar with your results. This ties back to those specific stats. Plus, it doesn’t hurt if the supporters of your nomination have their own awards and recognition or are seen as pillars of the community too.
  • Rigorous – To collect all the evidence required, you’ll need to treat this nomination like a job. You’ll want to document progress, have regular follow-ups, chase down supporters and keep everything organised in one place. If that sounds like a nightmare, see how we can help.
  • Supporting evidence – The more high-quality evidence you send, the better. Think about awards or accolades from prestigious organisations or grants & funding that speak to your accomplishments. Submit copies of any certificates, records and photos you have that might help make that black & white case for the committee.
  • Well-written – Your nomination needs to be a good read. The committee gets thousands of applications every year. There’s no need to bore them with another write up that sounds like a textbook introduction. Try to create a narrative that takes them through the journey of your accomplishments from the foundations through to the results.
  • Skip the CV – For the written portion, don’t just regurgitate your CV – you can always include that as supporting evidence if you wish. Instead create a new piece of content that answers the committee’s questions about what you’ve done, at what scale and with what results for how long. Only include work experience that is relevant. Your summer job as a corner shop clerk in 1989 may not add much gravitas.
  • Never use a template – The committee has seen every online template out there. It’s not going to send the right message when you couldn’t take the time to craft a bespoke nomination. Start with an online based on what the committee has asked to know about and fill it out from there.
  • Focus on community – If your success has made you wealthy or famous; that’s great. But it won’t win you an award. Share how you’ve improved the profile of Britain or contributed to British life. That’s what the committee is looking for.
  • Scope, scope, scope – The more people helped overall, the better. Try to get specific on how many people your charity, philanthropy or innovation benefited. If you don’t know numbers, state the exact community, town, region or country.
  • Background check – If you’re not sure that Police, Immigration Services and HMRC will all give you a clean bill of health; perhaps undertake a check before submitting a nomination. That way, any concerns can be addressed within the documentation.
  • Correct grammar – Don’t let poor spelling or a misused word confuse or derail your committee reviewer. If you can’t retain our services, hire a proofreader or junior editor to review your content for correctness before sending it off. If you don’t have a budget for support, try advanced grammar tools like Grammarly.
  • Multiple perspectives – Enlist the help of friends or colleagues to re-read your submission before posting it. Ask them what they gathered from the nomination. Was there anything that stood out? Have them highlight any portions that were unclear or didn’t make sense. Sometimes having a second or third opinion can help you catch issues before you send an incomplete nomination.

Want more tips? We’ve been sharing our know-how for years so you can benefit from our learnings. Check out more of our guidance on how to write a winning Queen’s Award nomination.

Success Process

If you’re successful, you will be notified. Your name (or your nominee’s name) will be published in The Gazette. According to the official website for the Royals, “As ‘fountain of honour’ in the UK, The Monarch has the sole right of conferring titles of honour on deserving people from all walks of life, in public recognition of their merit, service or bravery.” As such, you’ll collect your award from The King or another Member of the Royal Family during an Investiture ceremony.

This is, of course, assuming that you will accept the award. Some people have chosen to decline their MBE or OBE in the past as a political statement or type of public protest. According to The Guardian, “Following a leaked list of alleged “refuseniks” to the Sunday Times in 2003, it emerged that almost 300 people, including the authors Roald Dahl and Aldous Huxley and the chef Nigella Lawson, had declined an honour from 1951 to 1999 – though the Cabinet Office would not admit whether that was the total figure.”

But for the vast majority of nominees, a King’s Honour is the culmination of their life’s work and a testament to their achievement. And you can even commemorate your award with an official keepsake. According to The Gazette, “If you or a loved one have been honoured by the King or mentioned in despatches, The Gazette is available to buy as a personalised commemorative edition. Each pack contains a complete edition of The Gazette from the day the honour was published.”

Rejection Process

If you’ve been rejected, you won’t hear anything at all. After 2 years, you can assume you’ve not been successful in your nomination. At that point, you may choose to reapply. But keep in mind that you would have been rejected because your application did not convey a suitable level of national, regional or local gravitas to your work. Unfortunately, you won’t receive any guidance from the committee about your application. If you’ve been unsuccessful in the past, you may not want to chance another wasted application process (and a two-year wait period). If you’d like to hear how we’ve helped others craft successful nominations, visit the testimonials page. Refer to our tips above on how to create a great nomination if you do choose to resubmit your application yourself. Also, since time has passed, it’s important to note that the committee will expect your contribution to have increased as well.

In Summary

In this ultimate guide to winning a Royal Honour, we’ve provided concise tips, a helpful overview and some insightful analysis of the awarding process. By sharing our expertise with hundreds of nominations and unique perspectives on the Honour’s system; we’re hoping to provide a resource that will encourage more diverse applications from every corner of British Life. Even if you don’t have a decent writing bone in your body, these tips will help you understand what a good nomination looks like and what steps to take. Or simply leave it all to us if you’d like an expert’s touch.

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