Arise, Sir Stelios; knight of the cut-price skies

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The Independent Online

Two of the country's best known self-made businessmen have been knighted in the Honours List published today, to mark the Queen's official 80th birthday.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, has been honoured for bringing cheap air flights to millions. Sir Stelios, who was born in Greece, set up his first company, Stelmar Shipping, 14 years ago, at the age of 25. He established the easyGroup in 1998.

"It came as a surprise to me and I'm not sure at this stage that I deserve an honour which is usually reserved for those with a lifetime of business achievement," he said yesterday.

The billionaire Sir Philip Green, knighted for service to the retail industry, said: "I am happy, this wasn't expected. I absolutely welcome it - why not? It is 25 to 30 years of working in this business with tens of thousands of people.."

They are among 959 people named in the birthday Honours List, which includes 26 men who have been knighted, and five women who have become Dames. Women make up a record 42 per cent of the whole list, according to the Cabinet Office. Nearly half of those honoured - 46 per cent - were nominated or supported by members of the public. More than half - 58 per cent - have been honoured "for their work in the community", the Cabinet Office said. "A key aim has been to reward those who work and serve at the sharp end - people who have really changed things."

Among the eminent women on the list was Professor Carole Jordan, one of the county's leading solar physicists, and Professor Janet Nelson, the medieval historian, who both become Dames.

Professor Cathy Warwick, one of the country's leading midwives, and Professor Cynthia Pine, the first woman to be appointed a dental undergraduate dean in the UK, have been appointed CBE.

Two other business leaders, John Sunderland, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes and president of the CBI, and James Crosby, chief executive of HBOS, were also knighted.

Two of the senior figures who handled the 7 July emergency in London have been honoured. Kenneth Knight, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, has become Sir Kenneth, and Andy Hayman, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in charge of combating terrorism, is created CBE. Mr Hayman recently offered a public apology over the raid on a house in east London in which a man was shot after false tip-off.

Mark Grundy has been knighted for services to education. He turned around the fortunes of George Salter School in the West Midlands when he was its head teacher and has helped launch a £5.2m project to equip every pupil with his own home computer.

Professor Roger Williams, who supervised the merger of the University of Wales and the College of Medicine has also been knighted. Ruth Silver, principal of Lewisham College, south London, who has written and broadcast extensively on educational matters and is committed to inclusiveness, particularly in the inner city, has been made a Dame.

Norman Bettison, former chief constable of Merseyside, and Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, have been knighted. So has the veteran broadcaster Charles Wheeler, while Paul Vallely, associate editor of The Independent is appointed CMG for services to journalism and to the developing world.

The artist Rolf Harris, who last year was granted an audience to paint the Queen's portrait, has been made a CBE.

Peter Lord and David Sproxton, creators of Wallace and Gromit, said they were "amazed" to be made CBEs. The pair, now aged 52, began experimenting with animation when they were at school. "2006 marks 30 years since we made the decision to go professional and turn our schoolboy hobby into a career," they said yesterday.

Among the more unusual awards is an MBE for Desmond Pastore, who turned out for the Manchester rugby club Egor on his 90th birthday. Mr Pastore, a former RAF pilot, still holds Sale's record for the most tries scored in a season. He said: "You are as old as you think you are. I still love playing rugby and tennis and I have no problem getting about the pitch or the court."

Unsung heroes: Constance Brown - serving fish and chips since 1928

When Constance Brown and her future husband, Sidney, opened their chip shop in Main Street, Pembroke, in 1928, Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister, Hitler was the frustrated leader of a fringe political party, the Great Depression was about to be set in motion by a collapse of Wall Street share prices, and the Queen was a toddler.

Incredibly, Mrs Brown is still dispensing fish and chips from the same shop. Today, aged 98, she is one of the dozens of ordinary people included in the Birthday Honours.

Her daughter-in-law, Glenys Brown, said she broke the news of an MBE to her gently so as not to shock her too much. "I think she is quite happy," said Mrs Brown. "She doesn't say a lot, but she will be quite pleased to collect it. She turns 99 in August and I think if her health allows it, she will continue until she is 100."

Nearly half the people on today's list - 46 per cent - have been nominated or supported by members of the public, many of them ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, such as being a waitress or a funeral director.

There is an MBE in the Diplomatic List for the British businessman Howard Jones, who resigned as director of a travel company in 1997, sold up and went to Wolsztyn, Poland, to pursue his passion for steam railways. "I couldn't be happier. I just play trains and enjoy life," he said.

Alice Arthur, who has run the fire brigade on the tiny Scottish island of Out Skerries, in the Shetlands, for 18 years, said she was "thrilled" at being created an MBE.

Also appointed MBEs were Angela Fugaccia, a waitress from Wembley, and Mary Case, for services to the funeral profession in Salisbury.

There were MBEs also for Mrs Wendy Daykin, a foster carer with Sheffield City Council, Angela Elmy, an usher for Alton magistrates' court, in Hampshire, Melvin Fletcher, Nottingham Trent University's parking control officer, John George, a Coventry bus driver, Catherin Hart, a home help in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, Kay Roberts, who drives the school bus to the Milton Abbot School in Okehampton, and Jean Spencer, who runs a talking newspaper for the blind in Bury.

Charity: Rantzen's fight for children

Several eminent fighters for the welfare of vulnerable children are among those honoured for charitable work. Esther Rantzen was better known as a broadcaster, but her appointment as CBE is for her work as president of ChildLine, a trustee of the NSPCC, and president of the Association of Young People with ME.

ChildLine was set up after the hugely popular television show, That's Life, which Ms Rantzen presented for 18 years, appealed to its 18 million viewers for help in a survey of child abuse. She is still president of the charity.

Michael Aaronson, the former director of Save the Children, been knighted for his commitment to improving the lives of children across the world.