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When the gonging gets tough consult an old hand

BEEN OFFERED something in the next New Year's Honours List recently? Don't know how to react? Are you as baffled as if you'd won the Lottery or seen the Virgin Mary in a vision? Then turn to our honours expert, the Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel to talk you through this very tricky period of your life. All yours, sir ... !

I have recently received a letter which I think may be offering me a title of some kind, though it is so vaguely worded that it is hard to be sure. Should I ring up the Palace and ask?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: No, no, very bad form. Most undignified. What does the letter say? Quote me a bit.

It says, Dear Adam Bellwether, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that you have been chosen as the recipient of a signal honour. Yes, you, Adam Bellwether, have been selected from among thousands of potential candidates to become a member of one of the most distinguished institutes in the world ...

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Stop there! What you have got is an invitation to become a member of the National Geographic Society.

Oh, yes, you're right. I hadn't read to the end. Sorry. Do you think I should join?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Not unless you want to find out more than you need to know about oyster-fishing in Chesapeake Bay, then decide not to renew your annual subscription and then be pursued by them for the rest of your life. Next!

I have received a letter from Downing Street asking me if I want to be knighted in the New Year's Honours List, and warning me that if I mention this to anyone else, the offer will be withdrawn. Is this in fact so?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Yes, it is so. In fact, as I am on the selection committee for new knighthoods, I can tell you here and now that the offer is withdrawn.

But hold on a moment! This advice column is meant to help people who have been offered titles! You can't withdraw it just because I asked for advice!

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Wanna bet? It's a tough old world in the titles racket. Next!

I have been offered a peerage which I intend to turn down as the thought of sharing a dressing room with Melvyn Bragg is more than I can bear, but I would like people to know that I was offered it, so that I can have the kudos without the responsibility. Any suggestions?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Well, a few years ago I would have said there was no problem. All you had to do was to spread the rumour. Sadly, there have been quite a few cases recently of unscrupulous people telling their circle that they turned down a title when they had never been offered one in the first place. This title thing cuts both ways. Because of all the secrecy, you can never really prove that you have been offered one. By the same token, we can never prove that you haven't.

Well, I have been offered one, and I have accepted and now I can't decide what name to choose for my new peerage. What do you suggest?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Lord knows.

Thank you.

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: You're welcome.

When peerages are announced in the New Year's Honours List, the recipients always seem amazed and delighted. But they must have know about it for months, surely?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: Sure.

But they will have practised spontaneous surprise at knighthood classes, along with learning how to use your title, how not to get your head cut off by the Queen, etc, etc. Time for one more problem, I think.

I was recently privileged to see the Virgin Mary in a vision, and she deigned to offer me an OBE for services to engineering in the New Year's Honour List. I was delighted, of course, but since I am actually an orchestral conductor, I am a bit suspicious about the offer. What do you think?

The Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel writes: I have looked up this woman in both Debrett's and Burke's, not to mention Who's Who, and can find no trace of her. Clearly a jumped-up confidence trickster of some kind. Have nothing more to do with her.

If you have any inquiries about titles and decorations, why not drop a line and a blank cheque to the Hon Hugo Ferris-Wheel?