The IoS's Great Britons 2012

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The IoS presents its top 101 stars of the past year; inspirational characters who moved and uplifted us all. Plus, limping in with bloopers aplenty, the year's Plonkers − better luck in 2013, chaps

The Independent on Sunday presents here its 101 Great Brits of 2012 (along with a few honorary natives), who have inspired, moved and uplifted the nation. We also remember those we have lost, mock those who merit it and invite you to celebrate the Brits who made 2012 Great. To us, these are the people whose successes this year have been the most impressive and whose acts were the most admirable - making them the most worthy recipients of our humble accolade. Some of the names that feature on our list will come as no surprise, while others are less well known. We feel that they, too, deserve recognition.

Lists such as this are always highly subjective, so if you feel that we have failed to give credit where credit is due - or vice versa - please get in touch. We want to provoke debate and encourage engagement; after all, isn't that what this time of the year is about, the all-too-heated dinner-table discussion? Who says we at The IoS can't have our share of the fun?

Featuring alongside (or slightly below) the stars of 2012, are the Plonkers. A bunch of, well, wallies, whose resolutions for the New Year should be to not make the same mistakes as last year. They thought they'd got away with their blunders, were convinced that their bloopers were long-forgotten, but, for one last time, we remind you of their gaffes and immortalise their mishaps. We wish them, and all those who narrowly escaped this list, a brighter 2013.

Nicola Adams

Olympic boxer

At London 2012, the 30-year-old flyweight became the first woman to win an Olympic boxing medal, beating China's Ren Cancan to gold. Last month she bagged another first place, No 1 spot in The IoS Pink List of the most influential lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Britons.

Ben Ainslie

Olympic sailor

He was fighting back pain and exhaustion, but Ainslie still crossed the line first in the Finn medal race, taking his fourth Olympic gold to become the greatest sailor in the history of the Games. The 35-year-old's battle against the Dane Jonas Hogh-Christensen made great television.

April Ashley

Sex-change pioneer

Born George Jamieson in Liverpool, Ashley was the first Briton to change sex, undergoing pioneering surgery in Morocco in 1960. She modelled for Vogue. Last month, Prince Charles made her an MBE for advancing the transgender cause. A film of her life is planned.

Clare Balding

Broadcaster

A career-defining year for the horse-racing commentator who was once told women didn't go to Cambridge. She defied more expectations at London 2012, winning gold for her presenting, from swimming to show-jumping. Her moving memoir will gallop to Christmas No 1. Odds on.

Gary Barlow

Concert producer

The singer and X Factor judge is now Gary Barlow OBE, thanks to his work organising the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert. He received more plaudits in July, when he performed at the Olympics barely days after learning his fourth child, Poppy, had been stillborn.

Mary Berry

Cook

Berry became a household name at 77 after starring in BBC2's Great British Bake Off. Admittedly, the cordon bleu-trained cook has form in a few smart kitchens – she had already published more than 20 cookbooks, many for Aga owners. Her range just got a whole lot bigger.

Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar

Guardsman

The first Sikh Scots Guard to wear a turban on duty outside Buckingham Palace is an example of patriotism in modern Britain. The proud member of the 180-year-old regiment wears his cap badge pinned to his turban. He says guarding the Queen is "the best thing in my life".

Rob Blackie

Businessman

Appointed European managing director of Blue State Digital, the company behind Barack Obama's online campaign, in 2011. It signed up more than 3 million donors to give the incumbent a financial edge over his opponent. Don't be surprised to see Blue State over here in 2015.

Peter Blake

Artist

Still groovy after all these years, in 2012 Blake reproduced his famous 1967 Sgt Pepper album cover, sold the original collage at Sotheby's for £55,250 and created 24 artworks for Gatwick airport. Blake turned 80 this year, but he's not retiring – not in any sense.

Danny Boyle

Director

He took pastoral England and turned it into one of the most dazzling moments in TV history. The London 2012 opening ceremony was quirky, inspiring and Boyle's finest hour, better than Trainspotting, The Beach, and Slumdog Millionaire. And he rejected a knighthood.

Sir Henry Cecil

Racehorse trainer

Despite having stomach cancer, the 10-time champion racehorse trainer, who has won 25 British Classics and has a total of no fewer than 73 Royal Ascot victories to his name, continued to excel. He was awarded the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Award for a lifetime's contribution to racing.

Shahida Choudhry

Campaigner

Birmingham social worker pushing for a Nobel Prize for Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old shot by the Taliban while agitating for girls' education in Pakistan. Choudhry was taken out of school in the UK at 16 and forced into marriage in Pakistan. She now runs a support network.

Joan Clulow, Pam Saunders et al

Birmingham council workers

Joan Clulow had worked for 25 years before discovering in 2005 that she was being paid less than her male counterparts for doing the same job. She and 174 other women took action, winning a landmark legal case in October that will make it easier for people to demand equal pay.

Sebastian Coe

Olympian

Coe had already triumphed as an athlete and a Tory MP when, in 2004, he took on the bid for London 2012. His eight-year marathon culminated in a golden five weeks that turned even the nay-sayers dewy-eyed. A consummate networker, he fixed the Queen's parachuting stunt.

Phil Coffey

Architect

He was 2012's Young Architect of the Year. Last year, Coffey's company won the Stephen Lawrence Prize for best UK project on a budget of less than £1m for a primary school library in Kentish Town. This year, the firm won plaudits for another ambitious library at the British Film Institute.

Alastair Cook

England cricket captain

With a record five centuries in five Tests as captain of the national side, Cook has just led the team to its first Test series win on Indian soil since 1984. Already, at 27, he is one of the most prolific scorers in Test history. He took the England reins after Andrew Strauss retired in August.

Alison Cooper

Businesswoman

As head of Imperial Tobacco, Cooper is almost the last woman left at the helm of a FTSE firm. Despite blazing a trail in the boardroom, the cigar-loving mother-of-two stands firmly against gender quotas, calling the Government's positive-discrimination regulations "ridiculous".

Daniel Craig

Actor

After his cameo appearance alongside the Queen in Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony, Daniel Craig could be forgiven for thinking his year couldn't get any better. Skyfall was the first Bond film since the 44-year-old took the role in 2005 that has truly felt like classic Bond.

Julie Deane and Freda Thomas

Cambridge Satchel Company

The mother and daughter turned over £10m this year only four years after launch, taking sales of their design classic to 110 countries. The firm, originally founded to fund Julie's school fees, now produces 450 bags a day. Nominated for the 2013 European Business Awards.

Julia Donaldson

Children's writer

A firm parental favourite for the quality of her tales and their ability to lull children to sleep, she is the Children's Laureate. Her tale of The Gruffalo – written in rhyming couplets and only 700 words long – has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide since 1999. Now in film and stage formats.

David and Cameron Dunn

Flood heroes

When a pensioner became stranded after driving into deep flood water in Keynsham, Somerset, in November, the Dunns drove their car into the swollen river and pulled him through the car's window. The pensioner was said to be wet and shaken but otherwise unhurt.

Joan Edwards

Conservationist

She has been campaigning behind the scenes for better protection of the marine life off the UK's shores for more than 20 years. She now faces her greatest challenge in persuading the Government to adopt an ecologically coherent national network of marine conservation zones.

Jessica Ennis

Heptathlon gold medallist

She not only withstood the pressure of being the London 2012 poster girl, she thrived on it. Ennis broke British records for the heptathlon 100m hurdles. Her stunning sprint to the finish in the 800m, the final of the seven events over two days, and her smile, summed up the Olympics.

Mo Farah

Double Olympic champion

A memorable image of 2012 was Usain Bolt doing the Mobot next to Mo Farah mimicking Bolt's signature bow and arrow. Farah's sporting performances (and celebrations) won over a nation as he became the first Briton to do the long-distance double: gold in both 5,000m and 10,000m.

Julian Fellowes

Television writer and producer

Downton Abbey's creator has found worldwide success with the ITV series, nominated for 16 Emmys and three Golden Globe Awards. An average of 11.7 million viewers tuned in to Downton's second season. NBC has commissioned a drama set in 1880s New York from him.

Martin Freeman

Actor

TV audiences initially knew him as Tim Canterbury in The Office, but his role as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's epic, The Hobbit, has this year catapulted him into the limelight. He also played Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock in the hit BBC series.

Luke Gamble

TV vet and charity worker

The Dorset vet's Worldwide Veterinary Service charity has supported animal charities round the globe. He hasn't been afraid to get his hands dirty either, travelling to Egypt at the height of the Arab Spring to help animals. His latest project: to eradicate rabies from every dog in India.

The Games Makers

Volunteers

The 70,000 people who gave their time during the Olympic and Paralympic Games to make them the best ever. The purple-uniformed volunteers, whether spreading smiles or being part of the 5,000-strong medical team in the Olympic Polyclinic, epitomised the best of Britain.

Ramona Gibbs

Child heroine

After five operations and 16 days in hospital, the seven-year-old from Bristol was named "Child of Courage" at the Pride of Britain Awards. Ramona saved little sister Trixie by pushing her out of the way of a car, suffering liver and lung damage, a broken knee and internal bleeding.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Musician

Profoundly deaf since the age of 12, Glennie insists she can hear with other parts of her body. The percussionist led a 1,000-drummer ensemble performance of "And I Will Kiss" in the Olympics opening ceremony. Her campaigning has prompted large government cash injections for music education.

Sir John B Gurdon

Biologist

Honoured this year alongside Shinya Yamanaka with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Sir John's theory that mature human cells could be induced into reversing their growth and becoming stem cells was proven by Yamanaka in 2006, and has enormous medical potential.

Paddy and Carol Henderson

Food bank founders

Founded 16 years ago in Bulgaria, the Trussell Trust food bank has helped thousands of "the people that society forgets". The charity now helps Britons, too: it has fed more than 100,000 people in the UK in the last six months, roughly twice as many as in the same period last year.

Peter Higgs

Theoretical physicist

He was walking in the Scottish Highlands in 1964 when he dreamed up the concept of the Higgs boson – the "god" particle that holds the universe together. This summer, scientists at Cern in Switzerland announced they had found it, a discovery advancing physics knowledge enormously.

Lindsey Hilsum

Journalist

As international editor for Channel 4 News, she has covered major conflicts and international events of the past two decades. Spent most of 2011 covering the Arab Spring, in Libya, Egypt and Bahrain. Her book Sandstorm was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award this year.

Anya Hindmarch

Designer

The handbag designer received the ultimate accolade when she was named Veuve Clicquot's businesswoman of the year, beating Helena Morrissey of Newton Investment Management. Her design has prompted people to think about the number of carrier bags they use.

David Hockney

Artist

He accepted a Companion of Honour and the Order of Merit, but turned down a knighthood. Britain's most famous living painter remains his own man, a monument to anti-establishment unorthodoxy and cussedness. At 75, he is credited with having reinvented landscape painting.

Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland

Olympic rowers

A startled Katherine Copeland turned to her rowing mate, Sophie Hosking, and gasped: "We've just won the Olympics!" In an emotional outpouring after taking GB's first ever gold in the lightweight double skulls, the 21-year-old also said "We're going to be on a stamp!"

Sir Chris Hoy

Olympic cyclist

The man with the car-sized thighs became Britain's most successful Olympian, winning another two golds in the team sprint and keirin, bringing his total to six golds and one silver. He is hoping to compete in the new Glasgow velodrome named after him at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Sir Jonathan Ive

Senior vice-president of industrial design, Apple

The British designer, responsible for the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, picked up one of the world's most prestigious prizes for advertising and design this year. Sales of the latest iPhone are expected to be so big they could boost the American economy. He was knighted in May.

E L James

Author

Fifty Shades of Grey became the bestselling book in Britain in 2012, surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with sales of 5.3 million. The writing may be toe-curling, the charity shops bulging with unread copies, but this – like it or not – is the popular writer of 2012.

Jameela Jamil

TV and radio presenter

Replaced Reggie Yates as the Radio 1 chart show's first solo female presenter. Known as "Jam-Jam", she has spoken publicly about her lack of body-confidence after gaining five stone following a car accident at 17. She hopes to inspire teenagers to accept their bodies.

Robert Jay QC

Lawyer

If there were an award for unforgiving, methodical probing, the senior barrister at the Leveson inquiry would win it by a street. He conducted most of the heavyweight interviews with chilling courtesy and brought words such as "adventitious" and "condign" to a wider audience.

Boris Johnson

Mayor of London

Part-cabaret act, part-politician, and certainly further to the right than his bouncy bonhomie would suggest. Re-elected Mayor of London, he was leader of the Olympic city and let no photo-opportunity slip, not even if it meant dangling in a harness from a high wire.

James Jones

Bishop of Liverpool

Has presided over his see since 1998. He chaired the panel on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which 96 people died, that finally told the truth about the official cover-up. He said he regarded this as "absolutely" part of the church's "engagement with society, which I believe is our calling".

Sean Jones

Soldier

The lance corporal was presented with the Military Cross for leading a bayonet charge to overcome a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. He crossed 260ft of open ground under fire, forcing the insurgents into an alley, where his patrol held them until the rest of their platoon could arrive.

Mary Katranzou

Fashion designer

Greek-born Katranzou's nine-piece collection for Topshop sold out in record time in February thanks to a cult of celebrity followers: Chloe Green, supporting her father's brand, Poppy Delevigne and Alesha Dixon all sported her Pheasant Dream dress in the same week.

Harriet Lamb CBE

Campaigner

The head of the Fairtrade Foundation and author of Fighting the Banana Wars was named Cosmopolitan Eco-Queen and Orange Businesswoman of the Year for her campaigning. Under her leadership, sales of Fairtrade bananas have risen from 14.6 million in 2001 to 208 million in 2011.

Damian Lewis

Actor

The Old Etonian won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in the second Homeland drama series and has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of US soldier Nicholas Brody, a marine adjusting to a "normal" life after being held captive by terrorists for eight years.

Phyllida Lloyd

Director

Fresh from the success of Academy Award-winning The Iron Lady, the Mamma Mia! director has just opened an all-female staging of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the West End. Rather fittingly, she wants to see more women in the limelight, taking on "juicer" theatrical roles.

Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders

Actresses and writers

Ab Fab returned to our screens with an Olympic special, 20 years after the original broadcast. Lumley fits being a national treasure around charity work for children's and animal rights groups (and Gurkhas), while Saunders has recently written Viva Forever!, a musical based on Spice Girls songs.

Jo Malone

Entrepreneur

Following her departure six years ago from the perfume empire that shares her name, the entrepreneur has returned with a brand new fragrance Jo Loves. She has a nomination from the Fragrance Foundation and an Elle Beauty Award. Her new line recently launched at Selfridges nationwide.

Hilary Mantel

Novelist

The third, and only female author, to win the Man Booker Prize twice, Mantel is also the first writer to win the award with a sequel. Readers thought that 2012's Bring Up the Bodies could not possibly come close to her first Thomas Cromwell novel, Wolf Hall. It was even better.

Nichola McAuliffe

Actress and writer

Better known as Sheila Sabatini in ITV's Surgical Spirit or Anita Scott in Coronation Street, she became the first performer to twice win best actress at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Won her second Stage Award for Acting as the dying wife in Maurice's Jubilee, which she wrote.

Stella McCartney

Fashion designer

Won designer and brand awards at 2012's British Fashion Awards, she continues to prove she has pulling power. After designing the Team GB Olympic collection and dressing Kylie to K-Mid, her label has emerged as the most searched-for fashion house in Google's annual Zeitgeist list.

Rory McIlroy

Golfer

All the talent of a Tiger Woods, but without the moodiness and spitting. The most naturally talented British golfer in several generations won his second major championship (the US PGA), and – thanks to a friendly cop – got to the course in time to help Europe win the Ryder Cup.

Gary McKinnon

Hacker

Asperger's sufferer McKinnon faced 60 years in prison if extradited and convicted in the United States of hacking into military networks. Yet he and his mother campaigned with a quiet dignity and determination until the move was quashed by the Crown Prosecution Service last month.

Joan McVittie

Transformer of schools When Joan McVittie became head of White Hart Lane secondary school in Tottenham six years ago, it was dubbed the "worst school in London". It was renamed Woodside High, and thanks to her passionate leadership the latest Ofsted inspection ranked it as "outstanding".

Sam Mendes

Director

The Reading-born American Beauty director broke a host of records this year with Skyfall. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall has grossed over £550m worldwide since its release in October, making it the most successful Bond ever.

Nicola Miles-Wildin

Radio actor

Nicola, who suffers from juvenile chronic arthritis, starred as Shakespeare's Miranda alongside Ian McKellan as Prospero in Danny Boyle's spectacular Paralympics opening ceremony. She led 62,000 spectators to make the world's largest apple crunch.

Andrew Mitchell

Politician

An effective Development Secretary who is nominated here – despite his undoubted arrogance on occasions – as an earnest protest against the Police Federation and all its bullying. Mr Mitchell may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it seems an injustice has occurred.

Caitlin Moran

Columnist

Newspaper columnist, cheese-lover and "strident feminist", Moran wrote How to Be a Woman, a book about feminism which was a top 10 bestseller for more than a year. It's now being adapted into a movie for Film 4. Another book, Moranthology, was published this year.

Andy Murray

Grand Slam champion

Murray aced 2012: first as Wimbledon runner-up, then as winner of Olympic gold and – last but most definitely his greatest triumph – victory in the US Open, the first British man to win a tennis Grand Slam since 1936. Some people thought it would never happen. Don't they feel silly now.

Michael Nunn & William Trevitt

Dancers and choreographers

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt spent 12 years at The Royal Ballet before founding a revolutionary new dance company in 2001. Their all-male BalletBoyz has featured in many documentaries filmied around the world. This year the pair have appeared on US television.

One Direction

Boy band

Despite coming third in 2010's X Factor, One Direction have become a global phenomenon this year, with two chart-topping albums and more than 15m records sold worldwide. The five-piece group have conquered the US, and are estimated to be worth $50m (£31m).

Jonnie Peacock

Athlete

His right leg was amputated below the knee when he contracted meningitis aged five. He set the 100m world record for amputees at 10.85sec in June, but was the underdog for the Olympics T44 100m against Oscar Pistorius. The 19-year-old won gold in front of a home crowd of 80,000.

Michelle Ping

Air engineer mechanic

Ping, a paramedic with the Royal Navy Reserve, defied a hail of bullets to save a comrade shot in the head in Afghanistan in July 2011. The engineer from Sheffield was rewarded for her courage this year – along with 130 other service personnel - when she was mentioned in despatches.

Ian Poulter

Golfer

Much-mocked for his outfits, the English golfer inspired the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Late Saturday afternoon, Europe's cause was hopeless, but Poulter birdied the last five holes and then won his singles. A display of controlled passion unmatched in sport this year.

Hope Powell

Women's football coach

Hope has been shortlisted for the 2012 Fifa Coach of the Year Award after leading Team GB to the Olympic quarter-finals. She is the first black, female manager of an England team, and the first female to pass Uefa's Pro licence, the top qualification available to a coach in Europe.

Terry Pratchett

Writer

The much-loved author of The Discworld series and many more seems to have stepped up his workload since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007. He campaigns vigorously, as well as writing books – 2012's The Long Earth, co-written with Stephen Baxter, is the latest hit.

Elizabeth Price

Artist

Despite being an underdog, the Bradford-born artist won the 2012 Turner Prize with her imaginative film, blending 1960s pop music with footage from a 1979 Manchester furniture fire. Price said she owed her success to public support for the arts and has openly criticised the cuts.

Pudsey

Wonder dog

There are dogs that do tricks, and then there's Pudsey. Technically a border collie, bichon frise and Chinese crested cross, Pudsey is better known as the prancing mongrel who sashayed his way to victory on Britain's Got Talent, partnered by his owner, 17-year-old Ashleigh Butler.

The Queen

Monarch

Only a churlish republican would deny that, for longevity and her sense of duty, she deserved her Diamond Jubilee. She also proved a good sport, playing along with the Olympic James Bond gag. Even Prince Charles did himself some good with his touching jubilee concert speech.

Cait Reilly

Wage battler

Cait took legal action on behalf of thousands of people forced into unpaid "work experience" schemes. She had been told she would lose her benefits if she didn't do two weeks' unpaid work at Poundland. She lost her first legal battle but is currently in the process of appealing.

Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Pease, Tatiana von Preussen

Architects

The trio, who met at Cambridge University, started their practice vPPR Architects three years ago. Their innovative designs, sustainable, triangular eco-homes and "Spilt Houses", have been shortlisted for this year's Young Architect of the Year Award.

Professor Alice Roberts

Paleopathologist

Paleopathology's answer to Brian Cox, and one of the best things on television, Roberts has presented Coast, Walking with Dinosaurs, Don't Die Young and Origins of Us. This year, she was appointed professor of public engagement in science at Birmingham University.

Emeli Sandé

Singer and songwriter

The Scottish singer's debut album Our Version of Events sold over a million copies this year, overtaking Adele. The former medical student won the Brits Critics' Choice Award and three gongs at the Mobos and despite alleged nerves, delivered a string of stunning performances at the Games.

Liam Scarlett

Choreographer

Aged 26, Liam Scarlett became the Royal Ballet's first artist-in-residence this year, a role created for him. An accomplished dancer, his first work as choreographer, "Asphodel Meadows", was nominated for an Olivier in 2010. His first full-length ballet for the Royal Ballet premieres in May.

Brian Sewell

Writer

The London Evening Standard's art critic settled a few scores with two volumes of memoirs, Outsider. Blistering attacks on former editors, and auction-house philistines were interspersed with marmalade-dropping accounts of anonymous gay sex.

Ellie Simmonds

Paralympic swimmer

The nation had already been won over by a 13-year-old Ellie Simmonds at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 when she swam her way to a record-breaking double gold. This year, she did it again, adding two gold medals, as well as a silver and bronze to her sizeable collection.

Helen Skelton

Blue Peter presenter

In temperatures that sank as low as -48C, the presenter trekked 500 miles to the South Pole for Sport Relief in January this year. Helen travelled by ski, bike and kite-ski for 14 hours a day for a total of 18 days to help the charity's total fundraising efforts top £50m.

Sheridan Smith

Actor

This year Smith played the wife of train robber Ronnie Biggs in the BBC drama Mrs Biggs, enjoyed a successful run as Hedda Gabler in the Old Vic's production of Ibsen's classic, and starred alongside Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, Quartet.

Ted Smith

Conservationist

Now 92, he has done more than anyone to protect our wild places – unspoiled coast, ancient meadows, heaths and native woodland. For this and his role in setting up the Wildlife Trusts, Sir David Attenborough paid tribute to Ted's "profound impact on nature conservation".

Rolling Stones

Band

Yes, they arguably ripped off their fans with their recent £350+ concert tickets, but they still sold out in minutes, proving Jagger hasn't lost any of his business acumen. Reviews of their London shows suggest, 50 years on, they can still blow away any current competition.

Sarah and Barney Storey

Paralympic cyclists

Swimmer-turned-cyclist Sarah left others on the track trailing behind when she scooped four gold medals at this year's Paralympic games, while husband Barney won gold four days earlier in the very same velodrome. And now Sarah and Barney are expecting their first baby.

Andy Street

Businessman

The managing director of John Lewis has plenty to be happy about this year. The department store chain has posted record profits, which Street attributes to the public's trust in the company. He has also been critical of tax-minimising multinationals such as Starbucks and Amazon.

Nicola Sturgeon

Politician

One of the 10 most interesting politicians in the UK today. The deputy leader of the Scottish National Party balances the bombast of Alex Salmond, the First Minister, with a thoughtful approach to government. If the independence referendum is won in 2014 it will be down to her.

Kate Swann

Businesswoman

The outgoing CEO of WH Smith was honoured at the National Business Awards this year for a "Decade of Excellence" after swinging the high-street stationer's annual pre-tax losses of £135m around to profits of £102m. After 10 years at the top, Kate will step down next June.

Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Vicar

This former atheist has proved to be a key voice in the debate on women bishops. High up the list of more than 1,500 candidates in line to become the first female bishop, the avid social media user and Man City fan compared the Church of England to an "abusive husband" earlier this year.

The population of Totnes, Devon

Retail heroes

Many towns wished to keep mega-chains from their high streets, but only Totnes pulled it off. The 7,500 inhabitants successfully argued that demand for refreshments is already more than adequately met by local traders. Exit, defeated, the prospect of frothy coffee and over-priced snacks.

David Walsh

Journalist

The Sunday Times chief sports writer was named Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards. Walsh's 13-year investigation into drug use by Lance Armstrong was critical to the US Anti-Doping Agency's case against the cyclist, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles as a result.

Karin Ward

Witness

The 54-year-old mother-of-seven's brave testimony unlocked the Jimmy Savile sex scandal, prompting a media storm and a crisis at the BBC. Her story of abuse at a school in Surrey was the basis of unmasking Savile, who police believe may have been Britain's most prolific paedophile.

Dan Watson

Inventor

The Royal College of Art graduate's SafetyNet won the prestigious James Dyson Award in November, bagging a £10,000 prize. The SafetyNet is retro-fit to fishing nets and allows smaller fish, which would otherwise be discarded, to escape while retaining the larger ones.

Tom Watson

Politician

The Labour MP showed political courage to take on News International over its news-collection methods. While never knowingly an understater (he compared the phone-hacking scandal to Watergate and James Murdoch to a mafia boss), he's been much more right than wrong.

David Weir

Wheelchair athlete

Born with a spinal cord transection which left him unable to use his legs, Weir was among Britain's most inspiring athletes at the Paralympic Games, winning four gold medals in the 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and Marathon T54 categories. Also won his sixth London Marathon in 2012.

Justin Welby

Archbishop

The new Archbishop of Canterbury is not exactly a newcomer to the Establishment, being well-born, well-connected, and an Old Etonian. He has proved a sharp questioner in the Lords, and, as a former oil executive, is undeniably worldly. He also tweets, which may or may not be a plus.

Florence Welch

Singer, songwriter and musician

Her Ceremonials album sold almost 100,000 copies in its first week and debuted at No1 in the UK charts. When track "Spectrum" was remixed by DJ Calvin Harris, Florence and the Machine got their first UK number one and a string of awards to go with it, including NME's Best Act.

Lt-Cdr Sarah West

Sailor

Sarah West is the first female officer to be appointed to command a major warship in the Royal Navy. Born, like Captain James Cook and Lord Nelson, on the east coast (in her case, Lincolnshire), she joined the Navy in 1995, and in May of this year took command of the frigate HMS Portland.

Bradley Wiggins

Cyclist

The first Briton to win the Tour de France, with a dominant display plus evident sportsmanship which earned him the nickname "Le Gentleman" from the French media. Wiggins capped this with gold in the Olympic time trial, to become Britain's second most successful Olympian.

Anne Williams

Campaigner

Despite having just weeks to live after being diagnosed with bowel cancer, Anne Williams was at the High Court on Wednesday to hear a judge quash the original inquest verdicts into her son Kevin, one of the 96 Hillsborough disaster victims. The decision followed 23 years of campaigning.

Rowan Williams

Ex-archbishop

Never a natural performer for the media age – and why would he want to be? – the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury was often unfairly criticised for failing to connect – as if he should be some sort of Graham Norton with a dog-collar. But he often made sense – and sense with depth.

Rachel Yankey

Team GB and England footballer

Arsenal's number 11, Rachel is the most capped women's player in history with 121 caps. She scored against Japan at the World Cup, was awarded an MBE in 2005, and in her spare time runs a business aimed at delivering sport sessions to primary schools in north-west London.

Deaths of 2012

Bob Holness, 'Blockbusters' presenter; John Fairfax, transocean rower; Josh Gifford, National Hunt jockey and trainer; James Whitaker, royal correspondent; Frank Carson, comedian; Robert Carr, Home Secretary 1972-74; Davy Jones, 66, actor and Monkee; Norman St John-Stevas, politician and constitutionalist; Leopold David de Rothschild, philanthropist; Bert Weedon, guitarist; Terry Spinks, Olympic champion boxer; Vidal Sassoon, hairstylist; Sir Roy Shaw, arts administrator; Robin Gibb, Bee Gee; Gordon West, Everton goalkeeper; Victor Spinetti, actor; James Grout, actor; Sid Waddell, darts commentator; Angharad Rees, actress; Eric Sykes, comedy great; Simon Ward, actor; Geoffrey Hughes, actor; David Barby, antiques expert; Sir Alastair Burnet, journalist and broadcaster; Sir John Keegan, military historian; Sir Bernard Lovell, astronomer; Nina Bawden, author; Max Bygraves, entertainer; Terry Nutkins, naturalist; Derek Jameson, journalist; Herbert Lom, actor; Eric Hobsbawm, historian; Joe Melia, actor; Clive Dunn, actor; Bill Tarmey, actor; Valerie Eliot, widow of T S Eliot; Sir Rex Hunt, Falkland Islands governor; Dave Sexton, football manager; Dinah Sheridan, actress; Kenneth Kendall, broadcaster; Sir Patrick Moore, astronomer; Alex Moulton, engineer and inventor.

Meet The IoS plonkers of the year!

Nadine Dorries MP It's not so much that she absented herself from the House of Commons to go on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! It's not even that she thought a reality TV show was a suitable vehicle for discussing abortion reform. It's the contempt for the public evident in her thinking that we would all swallow this line.

Lord Justice Leveson Almost 500 people were involved in Leveson's year-long inquiry, costing the Government more than £5.6m, but thankfully a profound conclusion was reached: "Hey, we need to keep an eye on them journos!" The judge also failed to tackle the issue of internet media – you know, that small 21st-century phenomenon – in his investigation. Whoops.

Premier League football A summer of Olympian achievement and sportsmanship, plus the Ryder Cup heroics, has left top-flight football looking like an over-hyped pseudo-contest between over-paid shirt-pullers and divers.

Trenton Oldfield, the Boat Race protester If Oldfield – the self-proclaimed warrior against elitism – hadn't been educated at one of Sydney's most exclusive public schools, he might have earned more support for his protest. Instead, he emerged from the river Thames looking rather silly (and soggy), facing a £750 fine and a six-month prison sentence.

The weather You gave us a tantalising glimpse of something fetching in March, and then nine months of drear – grey skies, floods, high winds, premature snow. It was a wretched performance. You've let the country down, the tourist industry down, but, most of all, you've let yourself down.

Louise Mensch She's here, she's there, she's every-bloody-where. Columns, quotes, Twitter: nowhere is now Mensch-free. She'll be doing cold-calling next – just to let you know what she thinks. "Hello, this is an unimportant message from Louise Mensch …"

Julian Assange It must have seemed a good idea at the time to seek refuge in Ecuador's London embassy. But, in terms of furthering his causes of Wikileaks and openness, he might as well be the Man in the Iron Mask. And all because the conspiratorial-minded Assange believes the Obama administration wishes to carry out Sarah Palin's demand that he be tried and executed.

The executive at Penguin who OK'd Pippa Middleton's 'book' You must have thought you were on to a winner with some platitudes from the world's most ardent party-goer. But now you know that some things are beneath even the celebrity book market. Here's a tip: next time, watch the company's bottom line, rather than hers.

Great Britons 2012 was compiled by Matthew Bell, Paul Bignell, Rachel Bradley, Paul Cahalan, Katy Guest, Angus Handley, James Hanning, Susie Mesure, David Randall and John Rentoul

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