Queen gives Major the highest honour

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JOHN MAJOR and the former US senator George Mitchell are among the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process to be rewarded in the New Year honours list today.

The former Prime Minister is appointed Companion of Honour, the highest accolade in the gift of the Queen, while Mr Mitchell receives the equally rare honorary knighthood bestowed upon foreign nationals.

But Tony Blair's attempt to use his third honours list to mark the historic Good Friday Agreement ran into trouble when it emerged that leading nationalist politicians had turned down honours.

Downing Street took the unprecedented step yesterday of revealing that members of the "nationalist community" had been offered awards but had declined to take them.

It is likely that senior figures in John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) were approached, but refused the honours on the basis that to do so would entail recognition of "the British Empire".

Others rewarded for their contribution to the peace process include the Canadian general who co-chaired the peace talks, John de Chastelain, and Quentin Thomas, the civil servant who first made secret contact with the IRA under Mr Major's administration.

General de Chastelain is appointed Companion of Honour, while Mr Thomas receives a knighthood. Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC's chief constable, also becomes a knight.

A Downing Street spokesman said Tony Blair wanted to recognise in particular the courage shown by Mr Major in starting the peace process.

"They have all performed an exceptionally difficult role very well. They have all showed real guts and patience in helping secure an agreement," he said.

Today's list includes the traditional line-up of high achievers from the worlds of sport, showbusiness and industry, but puts a strong emphasis on more "ordinary" public servants in schools, the NHS and community groups.

Actor Robert Carlyle, who starred in hit films Trainspotting and The Full Monty, is appointed OBE. "I am truly delighted. It's a great honour, especially for doing a job that I love," he said.

The veteran pop singers Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones are also appointed OBE.

Comic relief founder and comedian Lenny Henry is appointed CBE, as are the actress Maureen Lipman and Roger Moore, former James Bond.

There is a knighthood for Frank Williams, the Formula One team boss, while the boxer Prince Naseem Hamed and the snooker star Jimmy White are appointed MBE.

The actor Nigel Hawthorne, who played Sir Humphrey in TV's Yes Minister, is knighted, as is Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery. Mr Serota, a powerful figure in the British art world, has overseen many changes at the museum.