MBEs for creators of stunning sea of poppies

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visit the Tower of London's Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation.  : Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visit the Tower of London's Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation. : Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The creators of the spectacular sea of poppies that engulfed the Tower of London and touched the hearts of millions this year receive awards in the New Year Honours.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper are both given MBEs in recognition of the immensely popular Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which saw 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively fill the moat at the Tower – one for each British or Colonial military death during the First World War.

Millions of people queued in all weathers to see the moving installation – and in her Christmas message the Queen spoke of her own visit to see the poppies, saying: “The only possible reaction to walking among them was silence.”

The artists are among 1,164 people recognised by the Queen in the list, which also includes widely-trailed honours for actors Joan Collins, James Corden and Sheridan Smith.

The poppies emerged as one of the most visited and acclaimed public art installations for years, drawing an estimated five million visitors between July and November.

Cummins said he felt “taken aback and extremely happy to receive this unexpected honour”. He added: “Everyone who worked on Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, to me, should feel a part of this MBE, without them this installation wouldn’t have been created.

“Thank you to all those involved in bringing my vision to fruition and to those who put me forward for this honour, I’m shocked to receive it but truly grateful.”

Announcing the list, outgoing head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake hailed the pair.

“Their contribution to the commemoration of these fallen soldiers has captured Britain’s imagination and made the First World War centenary unforgettable,” he said.

Other prominent figures honoured this year are Esther Rantzen, actors John Hurt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emily Watson, comedian Meera Syal, novelist Ali Smith, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and designer Mary Quant.

From the world of sport, former athletes Steve Cram and Dame Mary Peters, and Hillsborough campaigners Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks are among those recognised, along with 103-year-old marathon runner Fauja Singh.

Former lord mayor of London Fiona Woolf, who resigned from her role as chair of the inquiry into historic child abuse, is made a dame for services to the legal profession, diversity and the City of London.

Questioned about Woolf’s honour, Sir Bob said: “I think if you look at her citation you will see she has a very distinguished track record as lord mayor of London but also as a lawyer and we felt the grounds were there in their own right for Fiona to receive an honour.

“Her honour reflects what she has achieved throughout her career.”

Sir Bob also confirmed he will look into the “highly regrettable” leaking of a string of high-profile honours before they were officially announced, adding that it was “unfair” when individuals are wrongly named as receiving honours. There were reports that Jonny Wilkinson was set to receive a knighthood, before it emerged that he is not included in this year’s list.

Sheridan Smith’s award caps her journey from one-time burger van worker to national treasure. After roles in The Royle Family, Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Gavin & Stacey and Benidorm established her as a comedy star, the 33-year-old went on to win awards for performances on both TV and stage.

She won a Bafta for her portrayal of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs’s wife, and this year she earned rave reviews for her role as Cilla Black in an ITV biopic. On the stage Smith has won awards for her performances in musical Legally Blonde and the play Flare Path.

Smith said she was “overwhelmed” and “humbled” to receive the honour.

Hurt, 74, is knighted after a career lasting more than 50 years taking in roles in the Elephant Man, Doctor Who and Harry Potter, as well as a famous scene in Alien in which an extraterrestrial bursts from his stomach.

Scott Thomas, who appeared in Four Weddings And A Funeral and The English Patient, is made a dame. The 54-year-old said she “could not believe” her inclusion on the list, adding: “In fact, I thought someone was playing a trick.”

Six per cent of the successful candidates are from ethnic minorities, while 45 per cent of the senior awards – CBE and above – are given to women, a jump of 10 per cent compared with the Queen’s Birthday Honours list issued earlier this year.