How to cope with winning the National Honours Lottery

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The Independent Online
This is a busy time of year for Sir Jeremy Pig-Iron. Who is Sir Jeremy Pig-Iron? Well, Sir Jeremy Pig-Iron is the head of the National Honours Lottery counselling service.

What is the National Honours Lottery counselling service? Well, the National Honours Lottery counselling service is the quango in charge of giving advice and coaching to all those whose dream has come true and who have won initials to put after their name in the recent New Year's Honours Lottery.

But do they really need after-care, Sir Jeremy?

"It may not sound a lot to you or me, getting an O and a B and an E to stick on your signature," says Sir Jeremy. "Well, it probably seems a lot to a small-time journalist like you. However, to someone like me, who has already got a real live knighthood,it's no big deal. But to the little guy in the street, who has no idea that his ticket in the National Honours Lottery is about to come up, it's a miracle! One day you're just an ordinary little guy who has been master-minding the street-cleaning in Hampshire or even just looking after a children's school crossing in Humberside, and the next day you're up there in the headlines with Sir Jimmy Savile VC!"

Yes, but the man who gets a gong for street-cleaning in Hampshire is not going to be up there in the headlines with Sir Harry Secombe or Michael Atherton, LBW. He is going to be well down in the small print along with the other small-time National Honours Lottery winners.

"Wrong," says Sir Jeremy Pig-Iron. "Oh, he may not get headline treatment in the national papers, but don't forget that he will be a hero in the local paper, and that's what counts. `Local Man Gets New Year Honour', screams the Hampshire Evening Thingy, and suddenly he is a landmark to everyone in Hampshire. Some people can cope. Some can't. The ones that can't, those are the ones we deal with."

Fine. Incidentally, how did Sir Jeremy himself get his title?

"Well," says Sir Jeremy, "one of the perks of this job is a knighthood. Before I took on this vital post as chief executive of the National Honours Lottery counselling service, I was plain, ordinary Jeremy Pig-Iron, deputy director of the Greetings Card Complaints Board. Suddenly I was plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight. It was dazzling, it was confusing. But I wasn't too confused to ask for a title along with the big car and the money. `Look,' I said to them, `how shall I ever know the problems and the agony of having an honour thrust upon one if I don't experience it myself? Give us a knighthood and all the heartache and stress that go with it.' Well, they hummed and haahed, and finally said, `OK, it's a knighthood'."

I see. So after people have got their honours and find they cannot cope, they come to you?

"Oh, no. We go to them. And we go to them long before the honours are announced. Don't forget that everyone who gets an honour has to be consulted in advance, just in case they don't want it. It would he terribly embarrassing if someone like Richard Ingrams stood up come New Year's Eve and said, `I don't want your bloody knighthood; I'd be the laughing stock of my friends if I took it.' So they get consulted in advance and if they say yes, we move in with the counselling.

"The first thing we tell them is to pretend it's all a complete surprise. Just take a look at the papers. `I'm over the moon,' says Joanna Lumley. `What a shock,' says Felicity Kendal. Well, of course, it's not a shock: they've known for months. But we have carefully coached them to be shocked and surprised.

"The public expect it. If Joanna Lumley said, `Oh, that little honour! Darling, I've known about that for months. I only got it to make Ruby Wax jealous', well, people would be understandably horrified. We have to avoid all that. Actually, in Joanna Lumley's case I believe she was genuinely shocked and surprised."

Why was that?

"She was all alone on an island in the Indian Ocean at the time she got the offer of an OBE. We had to get an answer that week. So one of our chaps actually flew out there and rowed to the island to ask her. She got the shock of her life and screamed at him to go away."

Why so panic-stricken?

"Apparently she thought he was from the BBC, come to ask her to present Children in Need. As she had gone there in the first place to get away from any involvement in this year's telethon, she was not unnaturally a little upset."

Did you win a title in the National Honours Lottery? Do you now need help and care? Would you like to know why Sarah Hogg really got a peerage? Would you like a list of people offered titles who turned them down? Write to Sir Jeremy, c/o this column.