New Year Honours list explained: What’s the difference between an OBE, MBE and CBE and how do knighthoods work?

The New Year's Honours list is part of the British honours system and are given out in the name of the reigning monarch (Photo: Geoff Pugh/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The New Year's Honours list is part of the British honours system and are given out in the name of the reigning monarch (Photo: Geoff Pugh/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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The New Year Honours list is part of the British honours system. The titles are given out in the name of the reigning monarch.

They have been awarded at New Year since 1890 except in 1940 due to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.

Andy Murray became the youngest knight in Britain at 29. Picture: Getty Images

Andy Murray became the youngest knight in Britain at 29. Picture: Getty Images

The honours recognise the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the UK and anyone can be nominated as long as they meet the criteria of the individual awards.

In the New Year honours list, fashion icon Twiggy, Thai cave rescuers, conservationist Chris Packham, author Philip Pullman, politicians, sports people and ordinary people were celebrated.

But what does each one mean?

READ MORE: New Year Honours List: Doddie Weir and Nicola Benedetti honoured

Award: Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Abbreviation: KBE and DBE

This award is usually given to an individual for their long-term contribution in their field of work or charity.

The rank entails admission into knighthood, allowing male recipients to use the title ‘Sir’ or female recipients ‘Dame’ before his or her name.

The youngest person to receive a Damehood in modern times was the sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur, who was 28 when she was honoured.

Tennis player Andy Murray is the UK’s youngest knight after he received a knighthood in 2016 at the age of 29.

Award: Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Abbreviation: CBE

This is awarded to an individual for a major local role in any activity such as business, charity or the public sector.

Anyone can be nominated but they must have a significant role locally or regionally, or be known nationally for their work, expertise and achievements. 
These can include community or charity work as well paid positions.

Award: Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Abbreviation: MBE

This award is given by the Queen to an individual in recognition of community achievements or a local “hands-on” service that has set an example to others.

Award: British Empire Medal

Abbreviation: BEM

This is granted in recognition of meritorious civil or military service.

The ribbon of the medal is rose-pink with pearl-grey edges for the civilian recipients and the addition of a central stripe in pearl grey for military honourees.

The BEM continued to be awarded to British subjects until 1992 when, after a review in 1993 of the honours system, the government decided the distinction between this and an MBE was “tenuous”.

In 2012, the then Prime Minister David Cameron announced it would once again be awarded but only to civilians and would begin that year to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This feature first appeared on our sister site, the i.