Financial Times: Henry Mance, June 16, 2017
Len Blavatnik knighted in Queen’s birthday honours
Also a posthumous George Medal for Westminster attack policeman
A Ukrainian-born businessman who made billions from a turbulent partnership with BP in Russia has been awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Len Blavatnik made his fortune in Russia’s aluminium industry in the 1990s, and was one of the investors in TNK-BP, an oil joint venture that was bought by state-controlled Rosneft in 2013 after years of disputes between the shareholders.
He has since emerged as one of the UK’s most prominent philanthropists, donating £75m for a school of government at Oxford University, and at least £50m to an extension of the Tate Modern, both of which bear his name.
The 60-year-old billionaire now owns Warner Music, one of the world’s three big record labels, and a house on London’s Kensington Palace Gardens. He emigrated to the US in 1978, and is now a British and American citizen, with wealth estimated by Forbes at $19bn.
Sir Len was guided in the ways of English high society by George Weidenfeld, the late publisher, who described him as one of the few “unspoilt” tycoons. He has avoided media interviews and, through advisers, objects to being described as an oligarch because he plays no role in Russian politics or government and has never been a Russian citizen.
In April he was cleared of fraud claims relating to a $19bn purchase of a chemicals company.
Keith Palmer, the police officer killed in March in the terror attack on Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, receives the George Medal for civilian gallantry, as does Bernard Kenny, a 78-year-old former miner, who came to the aid of the Labour MP Jo Cox when she was fatally attacked one year ago.
This month marks a century since the Order of the British Empire was created in its modern form by King George V for those who had served in non-combatant roles in the first world war.
Those currently in charge of the awards — which includes knighthoods and damehoods, as well as OBEs and MBEs — have striven for public legitimacy in the face of criticism of cronyism.
Women make up half of the 1,109 people on this year’s list, with 43 per cent of those receiving high honours. A tenth of the recipients are black, Asian or minority ethnic — the highest proportion in an honours list.
The musician Sir Paul McCartney, the designer Sir Terence Conran, the chef Delia Smith, the author JK Rowling and the economist Nicholas Stern are all made companions of honour.
One recipient is even older than the award she received. Veteran of Hollywood’s golden age and star of Gone with the Wind Olivia de Havilland, who turns 101 next month, has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
The list focuses heavily on good works, science and the arts, with relatively few awards for politics or industry.
There is a CBE for Terry Scuoler, the outgoing head of the manufacturers’ association, EEF, which has been critical of the government’s approach to Brexit. Ashley Tabor, founder and executive president of Global, the UK’s largest commercial radio group, receives an OBE. It comes weeks after Global bowed to pressure to fire Katie Hopkins as a LBC radio presenter, after she advocated a “final solution” for Muslims following the Manchester terror attack.
Among those receiving MBEs, there is a nod to the young — pop stars Ed Sheeran and Emili Sande — as well as the old — Brian and Alan Stannah, joint chairmen of the family-run maker of stairlifts. Wim Visscher, part-owner of William Cowley, the sole supplier of vellum to parliament, also receives an MBE. The future of vellum, which is made from calf or goatskin, is in the balance: MPs last year voted to continue printing laws on the material, a tradition since 1849, but the House of Lords said it was not “an appropriate use of public funds”.
Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management, has become a dame in recognition for her work promoting diversity in the financial industry.
Ms Morrissey founded the 30% Club, a network to lobby for more women on company boards, in 2010. As chief executive of Newton Asset Management until last year, she was a high-profile advocate of controlling executive pay and of increasing transparency in the investment industry.
She also complained that her support of Brexit was viewed as “heresy” in the City, other than in hedge funds. She argued for Britain to adopt the Norway model — remaining part of the single market — but told the FT in February that she had avoided moving into politics because she did not want to “become a talker rather than a do-er”.
Tom Scholar, who has been awarded a knighthood, was a do-er at the heart of the EU referendum. He worked closely with David Cameron during his ill-fated renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, before his appointment as permanent secretary to the Treasury last year. His father, Sir Michael Scholar, was also a top civil servant.
Other business figures recognised in the honours list include Malcolm Walker, the founder of frozen food supermarket Iceland, who receives a knighthood. The entrepreneur, who was fired from Woolworths in his twenties for moonlighting, resigned as Iceland’s chief executive in 2001 following an investigation into a share sale in the company.
But the keen sailor and shooter returned four years later, after no charges were brought. He later wrote a memoir, Best Served Cold: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Malcolm Walker. Profits at Iceland have fallen owing to pressure from German discounters Aldi and Lidl, leading the chain to experiment with more expensive lines.
John Timpson, chairman of the shoe-repair and dry-cleaning company Timpson, also receives a knighthood. The company, which was founded by his great-grandfather, has pioneered working with ex-offenders, inspiring Greggs, the bakers, to follow suit. Last year his wife Alex, who had fostered around 90 children, passed away.