What's the difference between OBE, MBE and CBE?

Last updated at 07:55
Bear GryllsGetty Images

The Queen's Birthday Honours list for 2019 has finally been published - on the date of the Queen's official birthday.

It is made up of both famous faces and members of the public who are recognised for their amazing achievements or service to the country.

Adventurer Bear Grylls, netball star Ama Agbeze and golfer Georgia Hall are some of the names on this year's list.

They are given special honours or medals by the Queen or other members of the Royal Family at a special ceremony called an investiture.

Order of the British Empire (OBE) medalPA
Medals like this one are traditionally given out to British citizens for outstanding work and service

The decision about who gets an honour - and the type of honour they get - is made by a special committee. 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, which occasionally happens (for example, Roald Dahl turned down his award). People can also have their honour taken away from them if they are disgraced or behave in a bad way.

Darcey-Bussell-at-her-investiture-when-she-was-made-a-Dame.Getty Images
Last year, Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell was made a Dame

The honours list consists of knights and dames, appointments to the Order of the British Empire and gallantry and bravery awards.

Different people win different awards depending what they have done. The main awards include:

  • Companion of honour
  • Knight or Dame
  • CBE
  • OBE
  • MBE
  • BEM

There are others, though, including the Royal Red Cross for those in the nursing services, and the Queen's Police Medal and Fire Service Medal for those working in these areas.

Read on to find out more about the different awards on the list.

What is a Companion of Honour?
Harry Potter author JK Rowling.Getty Images
Harry Potter author JK Rowling received the honour of Companion of Honour in 2017

This honour is given to people who have made a significant contribution to the arts, science, medicine or the government over a long period of time.

The award, which was founded by George V in 1917, is limited to just 65 people each year. Those who receive it wear the initials CH after their name.

Sir Winston Churchill, JK Rowling and Sir David Attenborough have all received this honour.

What is a Knight or Dame?
Queen Elizabeth I knighting Sir Francis Drake on board the Golden Hind at Deptford in London on 4 April 1581.Getty Images
This picture shows Queen Elizabeth I knighting Sir Francis Drake on board the Golden Hind at Deptford in London on 4 April 1581

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, while women receiving the honour are called Dame.

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

What is a CBE?
CBE medal.Getty Images
A CBE medal

This stands for Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

King George V created the Orders of the British Empire awards during World War I to reward services to the war effort by people helping back in the UK (i.e. not on the front line).

As well as a CBE, people can also be awarded an Officer (OBE) or Member (MBE).

CBE is the highest ranking Order of the British Empire award, followed by OBE and then MBE.

They are given to people to recognise a positive impact they have made in their work.

What is an OBE?
Former captain of the England women's netball team Ama AgbezeGetty Images
Ama Agbeze, captain of the England women's netball team when they won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, was awarded an OBE in 2019

Like a CBE, an OBE is an order of the British Empire award. It is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award, behind CBE but ahead of MBE.

It stands for Officer of the Order of the British Empire (as opposed to Commander for a CBE and Member for an MBE).

It is awarded to someone for making a great impact in their line of work.

What is an MBE?
Ed Sheeran with his MBE after Investiture ceremony at Buckingham PalacePA
Ed Sheeran with his MBE medal at Buckingham Palace in 2017

Like a CBE or an OBE, an MBE is an order of the British Empire award. It is the third highest ranking Order of the British Empire award, behind CBE which is first and then OBE.

It stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire (as opposed to Commander or Officer).

It is also awarded to someone for making a positive impact in their line of work.

What is a BEM?
CBE, OBE and MBE medalsPA
CBE, OBE and MBE medals

This stands for a 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, but nearly 20 years later, Prime Minister David Cameron brought the medal back, with around 300 awarded every year to community volunteers.