Belfast Telegraph

Queen's Birthday honours: Van Morrison given knighthood for services to music and tourism in Northern Ireland

By Claire Cromie and Robert Dex

Van Morrison has been given a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday honours, joining the ranks of rock knights to delight his millions of fans.

The critically-acclaimed singer and songwriter is notorious for sheltering from the spotlight, but will now be 'Sir Van' the Man.

Van Morrison began as the lead singer in R&B band Them in the 1950s, when he lived with his family at Hyndford Street, off the Beersbridge Road in east Belfast.

His best-known song Brown-Eyed Girl propelled him to stardom in the 1960s and, at 69, he continues to write and perform.

The music veteran, whose unique meshing of blues, country, soul and folk has won him worldwide fame and millions of fans, has now been honoured for his services to music and tourism in Northern Ireland, the inspiration for many of his hits.

It is another highpoint in a career that has taken him from the back rooms of Belfast's pubs to the world's biggest arenas. His unique style - a meshing of blues, country, soul and folk - is a product of his home town and the music he grew up with.

His father was an East Belfast shipyard worker and was said to have one of the best record collections in the city.

Certainly the young George Ivan Morrison absorbed his father's love of music with the influence of acts such as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters and Mahalia Jackson still apparent in his music today.


By his teens he was singing and playing saxophone and guitar and enjoyed his first taste of success as the frontman for R'n'B band Them.

They charted with a string of bluesy hits including Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don't Go, but are best remembered for their garage band staple Gloria which has been covered countless times by acts including The Doors, AC/DC and Patti Smith.

Relentless line-up changes took the wind out of their sails and Morrison quit the band ending up in New York where he recorded a handful of throwaway tracks and the song that would become one of his biggest hits - Brown Eyed Girl.

But Morrison was not interested in chart success and instead teamed up with a bunch of veteran jazz musicians to make what many people regard as his finest record.

Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks, which regularly features in critics' lists of all time great albums, was recorded in three days and set the template for the rest of his career with its mix of poetic lyrics, often inspired by his native country, jazz improvisation, Celtic folk and soulful vocals.

Critical and commercial acclaim followed with records including Moondance, Tupelo Honey and St Dominic's Preview while his live act made him an in-demand performer around the world.

He was also in demand from other acts that wanted to have his name - and voice - connected to them, making records with Irish folk veterans The Chieftains and Georgie Fame.

There was also an unlikely hit duet with Cliff Richard - Whenever God Shines His Light - which reflected his own Christian faith.


Morrison, whose knighthood is for services to the music industry and tourism in his native Northern Ireland, has a reputation for being grumpy but has blamed that on "lazy journalists" who "keep the mythology going".

He is certainly protective of his private life, but found himself at a centre of a global media storm in Christmas 2009 after a statement was posted on his website announcing the birth of a son, George Ivan Morrison III.

Tragically the child's mother - a former manager on some of his tours - and her son died within 10 months of each other.

Morrison, who is married to former Miss Ireland Michelle Rocca and has two children with her, has always denied being the boy's father.

Read more:

Van Morrison: I wanted to be a vet before music called me  

Why it should be Sir Van the Man for our star of County Down 

Van to play extra Cyrus Avenue show to celebrate 70th birthday 

Honours list

He is among 1,163 people recognised by the Queen for their achievements and, for the second time in the honours history, female recipients narrowly outnumber men.

Jonathan Hill, an investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, was named a CBE for his services to the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is continuing a career-defining year with an OBE, while Twelve Years A Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was named a CBE alongside the creator of much-loved Paddington Bear writer Michael Bond.

American actor and artistic director of the Old Vic theatre Kevin Spacey said he feels like "an adopted son" after being awarded an honorary knighthood for his services to British theatre and international culture.

Spacey, who will step down from the role in the autumn after a 10-year reign at the London arts venue, said: "I am honoured and humbled by such recognition from the Queen. I must thank the British public for being so supportive of my efforts on behalf of the Old Vic. I feel like an adopted son."

Benedict Cumberbatch

Once again the names of some high-profile winners were leaked, with newspapers reporting comedian Lenny Henry's knighthood and Sherlock Holmes actor Benedict Cumberbatch's CBE days ahead of the official announcement.

The leaks were met with disappointment in the Cabinet Office, particularly for the recipients involved.

Henry, a long-time supporter of the BBC's Comic Relief, said learning the news gave him ''a lovely feeling'' and was ''like being filled with lemonade''.

Ebola nurse Will Pooley, 30, who was urgently evacuated to London after contracting the deadly virus in Sierra Leone last year, only to return to his life-saving work just months after recovering, was named an MBE for his services in tackling the outbreak in Africa.

The Suffolk nurse, who is now back in England, was the first British person to contract the disease and sparked an outpouring of support when he flew back to the country to help the thousands of sufferers.

Also honoured for his major role in the Ebola crisis is Dr Oliver Johnson, whose swift actions in response to the initial outbreak saved many lives, the Foreign Office said as it named him an OBE for his overseas service in Sierra Leone.

Dr Johnson, director of King's Sierra Leone Partnership, said: "Everything we achieved is due to the efforts of extraordinary local health workers and international volunteers, who have bravely led the fight against Ebola and did not hesitate to put their lives at risk to save others."

Alan Barnes

Another recipient whose compassion captured the hearts of the nation is mother-of-one Katie Cutler, who launched a fundraising campaign for disabled victim Alan Barnes after he was mugged outside his home.

Miss Cutler, who has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM), hoped to raise £500 for Mr Barnes after learning of the attack but was staggered to see donations rise to more than £300,000 when her appeal went viral, affording the 67-year-old a new home.

Prominent sports figures who have made it on to the list include former Welsh rugby star Gareth Edwards, who has been awarded a knighthood for his long service to the game.

Making up 5% of the recipients, other sporting stars to receive awards include former England footballer Frank Lampard, who was named an OBE, record-breaking cricketer James Anderson, also named an OBE, and the England women's football captain Casey Stoney, currently competing in the World Cup in Canada, who was named an MBE.

Rugby star Jonny Wilkinson, who was left embarrassed after his name was wrongly reported to be in the last set of honours, was awarded a CBE for his dedication to rugby union.

A number of women's campaigners were recognised for their work in tackling gender inequality in a list which saw 51% of the awards go to women, equalling the previous highest record of the 2014 New Year's Honours list.

Everyday sexism

Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, whose successful campaign to keep a woman on a British banknote resulted in a backlash of online abuse against her, has been named an OBE for her work towards equality and diversity, while fellow feminist writer Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, was awarded a BEM.

Miss Bates, 25, launched the project in 2012 to catalogue women's experiences of sexual harassment in the UK but it has since accelerated into a worldwide movement touching upon all issues affecting women and has attracted some 100,000 on-line entries.

She said: "I'm enormously surprised, really honoured and very excited. For me, it suggests that this work around gender equality is being recognised and taken seriously."

The Cabinet Office said 7% of the successful candidates come from ethnic minority communities, a small increase on recent lists, while 6% consider themselves to have a disability.

Dr William Frankland, a pioneer in allergy research who first introduced the study to the UK, is the oldest person on the list to receive an MBE at 103, while 17-year-old Natasha Lambert, who has athetoid cerebral palsy is the youngest, receiving a BEM for her work in fundraising.

Richard III historians

Two historians instrumental in the discovery of Richard III's remains in a Leicester council car park have been highlighted for their complex work which culminated with the king's reburial at the city's cathedral earlier this year, following a legal battle about where his final resting place should be.

Philippa Langley and Louis Ashdown-Hill, who led the campaign to find and rebury the 15th century king, were both awarded MBEs for their tireless work piecing together the complicated case.

GMB leader Paul Kenny has been awarded a knighthood in the latest honours, after a lifetime in the labour movement, for his service to trade unions.

He said: "I have accepted this as recognition of the crucial role trade unions play in society.

"We get denigrated for standing up against exploitation and bullying, so I'm delighted our role is finally being recognised."

Among the politicians to feature on the list for their public service is Tory donor and friend of David Cameron Henry Angest, who was awarded a knighthood along with Simon Burns, who has been Conservative MP for Chelmsford for nearly 30 years. Former Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes, who lost his seat in May, also features.

Steven Lawrence friend

Duwayne Brooks, the friend of murdered black teenager Steven Lawrence, who witnessed the attack which led to flawed inquiries that exposed institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police Service, was awarded an OBE for public and political service after serving as a Liberal Democrat councillor.

In education, Nicholas Weller, executive principal at Dixons Academies in Bradford, received a knighthood for his dedication to teaching, but the announcement came in a dark week for the chain of schools following the stabbing of a teacher during a science class at Dixons Kings Academy on Thursday.

He is among hundreds of people away from the public eye who have been honoured, with nearly three-quarters (70%) of the list made up of people who have dedicated themselves to outstanding work in their communities.

They include businesswoman Zarine Kharas, founder of, who was awarded a damehood for her innovative work in business and charity; Clarissa Baldwin, former chief executive of the Dogs Trust, who was named a CBE; Captain Christopher Fagan, named an MBE for services to the Gallipoli Association; James Jukes, founder of UK Homes 4 Heroes; and Fay Maxted, chief executive of The Survivors' Trust, named an OBE for her work with victims of rape and sexual violence.

Also recognised for their public service are Michael Davis, chair of the Prime Minister's Holocaust Commission, and Professor Ian Weller, a research specialist in sexually transmitted diseases, who have been awarded knighthoods.

Anthony Steen, chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, was awarded an MBE, and Andrew Wallis, founder of of Unseen, an OBE, both for their efforts in fighting modern slavery.

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