We are delighted to confirm that five Somervillians have been recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours this year.

Our heartfelt congratulations go to this year’s appointments, which include Somerville alumnae Baroness Professor Alison Wolf (DBE), Lady Suzanne Heywood (CBE), and Susie Dent (MBE), as well as our Senior Research Fellow Professor Rajesh Thakker (OBE) and Phillida Strachan (OBE).

Baroness Alison Wolf, DBE 

Professor Alison Wolf (1967, PPE) has been awarded a DBE for services to education. She is the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at Kings College London, and a cross-bench peer (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) in the House of Lords.

Alison has been an expert adviser on skills and manpower policy to central government since 2020, and in 2022 was appointed to the Advisory Council for the UK government’s Levelling Up strategy. She has been an adviser to, among others, the OECD, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, the European Commission, the International Accounting Education Standards Board, and the Bar Council.

Alison writes widely for the national press, is a presenter for Analysis on BBC Radio 4, and has published several books and monographs on work and education. In 2019 she delivered the annual King’s lectures, on ‘Universities, the economy and the state’. She was the founding Chair of Governors of the award-winning King’s College London Mathematics School, and continues to be a governor of the school. Alison was previously appointed a CBE for services to education in the Queen’s 2012 birthday honours.

Speaking of her honour, Alison said, ‘I am hugely honoured to receive this award, and to do so as a Somervillian. Somerville taught me to argue clearly, to identify assumptions and values, to understand institutions and incentives. These skills are the foundation of good policy analysis, and of what I have achieved in my career, and I’m very grateful.’

Lady Suzanne Heywood, CBE

Lady Suzanne Heywood (1987, Zoology) has been awarded a CBE for services to Business Leadership. Suzanne is a British executive and former civil servant. Since 2022, she has been the chief operating officer of the Exor Group, one of the largest holding companies in Europe. She has been the chair of CNH Industrial since 2018, and is also the chair of Iveco Group. Suzanne is on the board of the Covent Garden Foundation, Chanel, The Economist, the Royal Academy of Music, and Louboutin.

As a child, Suzanne sailed around the world with her family as a child for a decade, educating herself by correspondence school, before she joined Somerville. Her international bestselling book Wavewalker tells the story of that voyage.

Suzanne commented, ‘If I look back over my journey to this moment, from being a girl in a boatyard with limited education, through to what I have been able to do since, the organisation I have to thank the most is Somerville College. After growing up on the boat Wavewalker for almost 10 years, I wrote to Somerville and they offered me an interview, and later a place to study Zoology. Thank you to Somerville, and to all my friends, family and colleagues, who have made this journey possible.’

Professor Rajesh Thakker, OBE 

Professor Rajesh Thakker (FRCP, FRCPath, FmedSci, FRS) has been awarded an OBE for services to Medical Science and to People with Hereditary and Rare Disorders. Rajesh is a Senior Research Fellow at Somerville, and the May Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford. His main research interests include the molecular basis of disorders of calcium homeostasis. He has published over 350 articles, and has been the recipient of many prizes.

Among the many advisory positions he has held, he has served as Secretary to the Forum on Academic Medicine for the Royal College of Physicians (UK). He has been Chairman of the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) since 2008, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2014.

Speaking of his honour, Raj commented, ‘I am of course delighted to receive this honour but feel humbled as the honour really belongs to my wonderful team of clinical and scientific researchers and global collaborators, whose dedicated work has made the discoveries and facilitated translation of  scientific advances into benefits for patients. Indeed, patients are central to my work and it is their courage and determination to triumph over many adversities that has provided me with constant inspiration to take on challenges, and I am indebted to all of them. I am glad that Somerville can be proud of this achievement.’

Phillida Strachan, OBE

Ten years ago, Phillida Strachan completed her MSt in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Somerville. In 2024, she receives an OBE for Services to International Development. Phillida is currently Head of the FCO’s Humanitarian Resource Group (HRG). She has previously held roles as Humanitarian Team Leader for the Department for International Development (DFID) in both Yemen and Afghanistan. Before that, she held roles at the IRC and WorldVision. 

 

Susie Dent, MBE

Susie Dent (1983, Modern Languages) has been awarded an MBE for services to Literature and to Language – a poetic title of which we are sure she will approve! Susie is a renowned English lexicographer, etymologist, and writer. She has been resident word expert on C4’s Countdown for over thirty years, and contributed to countless radio and TV programmes, including Woman’s Hour, Newsnight, and The One Show.

On her podcast with Gyles Brandreth, Susie discusses the evolution of language, and in her weekly columns in the Radio Times and elsewhere, she answers queries about words and phrases. She has written for major publications including The Telegraph and The Times, and her hugely influential books include Word Perfect, Words from the Heart: An Emotional Dictionary and, most recently, Interesting Stories about Curious Words.

Reflecting on her MBE, Susie said, ‘I’m thrilled by the recognition, and if I’ve helped spread the joy of words and of books – especially the dictionary! – then I’m delighted. I’ll be celebrating the honour on behalf not just of wordsmiths everywhere, but also of Somervillians past and present. My love of both language and literature took shape during my time at college, and it’s no exaggeration to say my career rests on the teaching and wisdom I received there. The award is as much a tribute to my tutors and fellow students as it is to me.’

 

Are you a Somervillian who has received a birthday honour? We would love to celebrate your amazing achievement. If you’d like to get in touch, please write to us at communications@some.ox.ac.uk

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