Stars of the arts honoured – but no awards for politicians

Patrick Stewart, Status Quo and Jenson Button in New Year Honours list

Patrick Stewart, the actor who has played parts as varied as Macbeth, Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies, is joined today by Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, who have been rocking all over the world for more than 40 years, and the Formula One champion, Jenson Button, in the New Year Honours List.

There are also knighthoods for Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, the rugby legend Ian McGeechan, and Erich Reich, who was rescued from Nazi Germany 70 years ago when he was a child and is now chairman of Kindertransport.

But Gordon Brown has trodden carefully in drawing up what could be the last honours list of his premiership. Of 979 names on today's list, there are no national politicians, and only one banker – from a bank that did not go running to the Treasury to be bailed out.

Downing Street took one notable risk in agreeing that Cressida Dick, assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, should be among those awarded the Queen's Police Medal.

Ms Dick is the most senior serving policewoman in the country, but is better known as the officer who supervised the botched operation that led to the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes. An Old Bailey jury rejected the police's account of the shooting, but cleared Ms Dick of personal culpability. A spokesman for the Menezes family said: "Rewarding Ms Dick after her role in the biggest policing scandal of the decade displays woeful disregard for both the Menezes family and broader public opinion."

Until two years ago, it was common to see a clutch of bankers and professional investors in every honours list – such as Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who was knighted in 2004 for "services to banking". This time, the only banker honoured is Dyfrig John, chief executive of HSBC, who was made a CBE for "services to the financial services industry".

No national politician has been honoured since the Tory MP Peter Viggers was knighted in the 2008 birthday honours for services to Parliament. A year later, he announced his retirement when it emerged he had claimed £1,645 on expenses for a "duck island".

Mr Brown's list contained few high-profile celebrities. Though Patrick Stewart is now Sir Patrick, and Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, founders of the Status Quo rock band, can put the initials OBE after their names, forecasts that Simon Cowell or Bruce Forsyth would be included turned out to be false.

Jenson Button and Beth Tweddle, the gymnast, have been made MBEs. Ross Brawn, the Brawn GP team owner who made Button's success possible, has received an OBE.

Lauren Child, the best-selling author of the Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean children's books, is made an MBE for her services to literature, as both writer and illustrator. She is joined by Dr Claire Bertschinger, who has played a central role in healthcare in the Third World, and another 439 women on the list, making up 45 per cent of the total – the highest proportion yet. Six per cent of those honoured this year are from ethnic minorities. They include Mota Singh QC, Britain's first Asian judge, who has been knighted, and Parmajit Bassi, chairman of the private investment company Bond Wolfe, who has been made a CBE for services to business and to the community in the West Midlands.

Almost three-quarters of the awards were given to "local heroes" nominated by members of the public. They include Norman Barrett, ringmaster with Zippos Circus, made an MBE in recognition of his 60-year career in the circus. He is still touring. Alan Cassidy, a stunt pilot from Maidenhead, and Ian Millar, a sheep farmer from Perthshire, were also made MBEs.

Third World heroine: Dr Claire Bertschinger

Swiss-born Dr Claire Bertschinger first came to prominence in Britain during the Ethiopian famine of 1984, when she appeared in the BBC news report compiled by Michael Buerk that inspired Bob Geldof to launch the Band Aid appeal.

At the time she was working as a nurse for the International Red Cross, deciding among other things which handful of the thousands of children who came to the charity's two food stations each day would be fed. Before that she had worked in countries from Lebanon to Panama and Papua New Guinea, and afterwards she went on to treat the sick in Uganda, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

She now lectures at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and has written about her experiences in war zones, donating much of the money from her book to charity.

She won the Florence Nightingale medal in 1991, and in 2007 received the Human Rights in Nursing Award from the International Centre for Human Rights and Nursing Ethics.