British divers in Thai cave rescue make UK honours list

British cave divers (from right) John Volanthen and Richard Stanton discovered the boys and their coach alive inside the cave.
British cave divers (from right) John Volanthen and Richard Stanton discovered the boys and their coach alive inside the cave.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (AFP) - A team of British divers who helped save a junior football team stranded in a flooded cave in Thailand were among those awarded in Britain's traditional New Year Honours, announced on Friday (Dec 28).

The seven underwater specialists involved in the remarkable rescue were joined on the prestigious annual achievement list by Hollywood film-maker Christopher Nolan and former supermodel Lesley Lawson, better known as Twiggy.

Other recipients include Monty Python actor Michael Palin and Jim Carter from Downton Abbey, best-selling author Philip Pullman and leading Brexiteer lawmaker John Redwood.

Four of the divers were given awards for exceptional bravery while the three others were made Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Richard Stanton and John Volanthen - the first of the divers to reach the 12 stricken children and their coach - were awarded the George Medal, the country's second-highest civilian gallantry award.

Stanton had already been made an MBE in 2012 for his rescue services.

Fellow divers Christopher Jewell and Jason Mallinson receive the Queen's Gallantry Medal, while Joshua Bratchley, Connor Roe and Vernon Unsworth were decorated with MBEs.

 
 

"For me, after saving the boys, this is the icing on the cake," said Unsworth, who has also risen in fame after suing Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk for labelling him a "pedo guy".

"This was a team effort and I'm very honoured to have been recognised, particularly as you don't engage in a major rescue expecting this outcome," he added.

'It makes me giggle'

Sixties it-girl Lawson receives a damehood for services to fashion following a decades-spanning career modelling, singing and acting.

The 69-year-old told Britain's Press Association that the recognition was "wonderful, but it makes me giggle".

"The hardest thing has been keeping it a secret," she said.

Acclaimed director Nolan, an Oscar nominee this year for Dunkirk - as well as in 2011 for Inception and in 2002 for Memento - gets a CBE for services to film.

After graduating from low-budget independent movies, he has directed some of the biggest blockbusters ever made - including several Batman films - and become renowned for his technical and narrative daring.

Pullman, the creator of the hugely successful His Dark Materials trilogy, receives a knighthood for services to literature.

The 72-year-old said he was "very surprised and honoured" by the acknowledgement.

"I'm most grateful of all to those who continue to read my books, and I hope they don't have to work as hard as those who edit them," Pullman added.

Brexiteer wins knighthood

Palin, 75, becomes the first of Monty Python's revered comedy cast to receive a knighthood.

The veteran actor, who has reinvented himself as a travel documentary maker and writer in later life, gets a knighthood for his international contributions to travel, culture and geography.

He said news of the accolade had yet to sink in. "I don't think it will be until I see the envelopes addressing me as Sir Michael Palin," he added.

Meanwhile, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March after decades of membership, John Redwood - one of Parliament's most prominent eurosceptics - was made a knight.

Redwood was part of a group of eurosceptics who plotted to bring down the government of former Conservative prime minister John Major, who called them the "bastards".

The veteran Conservative lawmaker - a vocal opponent of Prime Minister Theresa May's draft Brexit deal, set to be voted on in mid-January - was among three MPs awarded knighthoods.

There had been speculation this year's honours could be deployed to try to win support for May's plan - but it appears unlikely with Redwood.

Earlier this week, he published a blog outlining "eight things wrong with the withdrawal agreement".

Overall, 1,148 recipients were named in Queen Elizabeth II's 2019 New Year Honours List.