Guide: What is the British Honours system?

  • 31 December 2014
The Queen presents actor Patrick Stewart with his knighthood at Buckingham Palace in 2010 Image copyright PA
Image caption People are presented with their medals by the Queen or other members of the Royal Family at a special ceremony

The British honours system gives special awards to people who have made an outstanding contribution to society.

People get honours for achievements like making a difference to their community, being a volunteer for many years or being amazing at what they do for a job.

Anyone can recommend someone for an award but not everyone is chosen.

The decision about who gets an honour - and the honour they get - is made by a group of people who make up the honours committee.

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SB.TV founder Jamal Edwards was awarded an MBE in 2014

The committee's decisions go to the Prime Minister and then, finally, to the Queen to check it.

Not everyone wants an honour and people are allowed to turn down the award.

The full list of people who have awarded an honour is revealed twice a year - at New Year, and in mid-June on the date of the Queen's official birthday.

The winners then receive their awards, which are special medals, from the Queen or other members of the Royal Family at a ceremony.

Types of honours

Knights and Dames

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Image caption Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy was given a Knighthood in 2009

The honour of knighthood comes from medieval times, as does the way used to award the knighthood: the touch of a sword by the King or Queen.

Men who receive this honour are given the title "Sir" and their wives "Lady".

Women receiving the honour are called "Dame".

The award is given for an exceptional achievement in any activity.

Orders of the British Empire

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Image caption CBE, OBE and MBE medals

King George V created these honours during World War I to reward services to the war effort by people helping in the UK or not fighting on the front line.

People can be given either the award of Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE) or Member (MBE).

They are now awarded to people making a positive impact in their work.

For example, the honour of an MBE can be given for achievement or service in the local community.

British Empire Medal

The medal was founded in 1917 and was awarded for "meritorious" actions by civilians or military personnel.

It was scrapped in 1993.

Nearly twenty years later, Prime Minister David Cameron brought the medal back and about 300 will be awarded every year to community volunteers.