The great – and the good – on Birthday Honours list

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The Independent Online

Today's queen's Birthday Honours recognises the Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, Britain's first solo Winter Olympics gold medallist in 30 years, Amy Williams, and Tamara Mellon, the founder of the designer shoe brand Jimmy Choo.

But in a sign of the ostracism of Britain's financial and political elite, the list snubbed MPs and bankers.

One of the most surprising people to be honoured was Barry Albin Dyer – a man who has appeared on television hundreds of times but whom few would recognise on the street.

Mr Albin Dyer, 59, has dealt with every one of the 473 servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, flying out to war zones with little notice to ensure they are brought home with care, as well as supporting families back in the UK.

Yesterday he was rewarded with an OBE. He said last night: "It was embarrassing, so nice, so overwhelming." It was, he insisted, also for the 52 staff of his London firm.

Every time there is a death in Afghanistan, a representative from the company flies to Camp Bastion where, with military staff, they ensure the body is cared for and a full report of the injuries is made for the coroner. "We sleep in the mortuary. We are with that boy and we don't leave his side," explained Mr Albin Dyer.

While staff in Afghanistan attend the ramp ceremony, the poignant service in which the soldiers pay their last respects, other colleagues prepare for their return at RAF Lyneham where Mr Albin Dyer sits with the families in the chapel, explaining funeral procedures.

"Words are insignificant. The worst has happened: they have lost their son or daughter. I have seen it hundreds of times but I would not have the audacity to say I know what it feels like," he said. Mr Albin Dyer, or his sons Simon and Jonathan, will then walk in front of the hearses as they head through the Wiltshire town.

Albin International Repatriations has been bringing home soldiers and their families killed abroad for 12 years, developing bereavement procedures and training up military padres and morticians. Yesterday, Mr Albin Dyer OBE said: "I am very privileged to have been able to help these people in a small way."

Among others honoured were Bryn and Emma Parry, of Help for Heroes, both awarded OBEs. The couple set up the charity to raise £6m to fund facilities for injured soldiers at Headley Court rehabilitation centre. It quickly became a national success, gaining royal support and raising almost £55m.


Zeta-Jones heads cast of screen and music stalwarts

It was undoubtedly a crowning glory for Catherine Zeta-Jones, the little girl from Swansea who became a Hollywood siren, when she received a CBE yesterday. The 40-year-old Oscar-winning actress, who is as famous for marrying Michael Douglas as for her acting career, which enjoyed a breakthrough in 1990 with ITV's The Darling Buds of May, has previously said: "I have made a lot of sacrifices in my life – but that's because I'm so ambitious."

John Nettles, 66, who will forever be remembered as the Jersey-based maverick detective Jim Bergerac, said he was "absolutely thrilled and delighted" to receive an OBE, and the Coronation Street actress Barbara Knox, 76, said her MBE was a "wonderful honour".

A knighthood went to the Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood, famous for the Holocaust-themed The Pianist. Graham Nash of the flower-power generation band Crosby, Stills and Nash and John Cale, founder of the experimental 1960s rock group Velvet Underground, were made OBEs.


Artist and writer taken by surprise

Paula Rego insisted she was baffled by being made a Dame as she didn't do anything but paint pictures. The artist, whose work often draws on common fairytales which are then infused with sinister, sexual themes, was born in Portugal, in 1935, but made her name in Britain after coming to the country in 1952 to train at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. "I'm so proud," she said yesterday. "I was totally surprised by it. What is it for?"

James Herbert a 67-year-old horror writer who has often been dubbed Britain's Stephen King, expressed his own surprise at being made an OBE for services to literature. Herbert, who has penned 24 novels in the past three decades, said: "I never ever imagined I would get one, particularly because I write horror stories and I didn't know [they were] particularly respected in this country. It was a total shock to see the envelope from the Cabinet Office."


Goalkeeper says award is 'icing on cake'

Bert Williams is the oldest surviving member of the England team that suffered a shock defeat to America in the 1950 World Cup. But yesterday, as England prepared for tonight's match against the US in this summer's tournament, the 90-year-old, who was the national team's goalkeeper, was celebrating as he described his MBE as the "icing on the cake" of a career in which he played 29 times for his country and won the FA Cup and the League championship.

Amy Williams the skeleton racer and Britain's first solo Winter Olympics gold medallist for three decades, also received an MBE as did former Formula One driver David Coulthard and former Wales football captain Gary Speed. There were also MBEs for Dr Frank Duckworth and Dr Tony Lewis, the two statisticians who devised the complicated mathematical formula which calculates how many runs are needed to win a rain-affected cricket match.

Unsung heroes

Recognition for passing down special skills

Among the ordinary people honoured for their dedication were a beef farmer, a Blackpool organist and a brass band player.

James Fitchie was made MBE for services to ploughing, after spending 30 years raising more than £100,000 for charities and organising events to demonstrate the skill to young people.

Also made MBE was 90-year-old Leonard Andrews, centre, a brass band veteran from Warrington who teaches young people how to play. The retired joiner and great-grandfather of nine said the award was "as much for the youngsters as it is for me".

Phil Kelsall, 53, resident organist at Blackpool's Tower Ballroom, was also created MBE. He said he had enjoyed a "love affair" with the venue since childhood. "I was very surprised because I didn't think I was old enough," he added.