Six leading national figures named as members of the Order of Merit

Television presenter and author Baroness Floella Benjamin is among six leading figures chosen by the late Queen to become members of the Order of Merit and appointed by the King.

Among the distinguished group are a molecular biologist and a geneticist both recipients of the Noble Prize, an award-winning architect, a former nurse who led the way in sickle cell treatment and a leading historian.

The Order of Merit was created in 1902 by Edward VII to honour leaders in the arts, sciences, culture and military.

Platinum Jubilee
Baroness Floella Benjamin during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant (David Parry/PA)

Appointments to the Order are in the Sovereign’s personal gift and the six were chosen by the late Queen in early September.

Members are limited to 24 individuals and include conservationist and television presenter Sir David Attenborough, the artist David Hockney, the former Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd, entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and ex-prime minister of Australia John Howard.

Trinidad-born Baroness Benjamin first came to prominence as a presenter on the popular BBC children’s programme Play School.

She has gone on to write more than 30 books with her memoir Coming To England now studied in schools, she served as Chancellor of the University of Exeter for 10 years and as Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, helped organise the National Windrush Monument unveiled at Waterloo Station.

In 2010 she entered the House of Lords, where she speaks on diversity, equality, and children’s issues.

Mary Seacole plaque unveiled
Professor Elizabeth Anionwu with then culture secretary Margaret Hodge as an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Mary Seacole is unveiled (Anthony Upton/PA)

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, a former nurse and health visitor, was the UK’s first sickle-cell and thalassaemia nurse specialist and created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London.

She was awarded a damehood in 2017 for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal which erected a memorial to the 19th century nursing pioneer in the gardens of London’s St Thomas’s Hospital.

Also appointed to the order is geneticist and cell biologist Sir Paul Nurse, awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine and now chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute.

Molecular Biologist Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is another new member of the Order and a former president of the Royal Society.

Architect Sir David Adjaye is known for designing many notable buildings around the world, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

Sir Paul Nurse – stock
Sir Paul Nurse director of the Francis Crick Institute (Nick Ansell/PA)

In October 2020 he was announced as the RIBA Royal Gold Medal Winner for 2021, considered one of the highest honours in British architecture for his contributions to the field internationally.

Also recognised is Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian Professor of History at the University of Toronto and Emeritus Professor of International History at the University of Oxford.

Her books include Women Of The Raj, Peacemakers: The Paris Conference Of 1919 And Its Attempt To End War, Six Months That Changed The World, and History’s People.