When Whangārei woman Natalie Scott went to work in London she never expected to receive an accolade that had previously been given to Princess Di, Nelson Mandela, Franklin D Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Florence Nightingale and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
But tomorrow morning (NZ time) Scott will receive the Freedom of London - a recognition awarded to people who have achieved success, recognition or celebrity in their chosen field - for her work during the city's Covid-19 pandemic response.
Scott is clinical lead physiotherapist for critical care at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London and has been at the forefront of the pandemic response.
She told the Northern Advocate she was honoured and humbled to receive the accolade and never thought that she'd be mentioned in the same sentence as such esteemed and influential people.
The award is to be bestowed by The right Honorable The Lord Mayor of London Alderman William Russell on behalf of the City of London via the internet.
In his letter to Scott, Lord Mayor Russell said: ''We have heard from the senior team at St Barts about how critical your work has been during this incredibly challenging period. We hope that you will agree to accept the Freedom as an acknowledgement of the City of London's appreciation for your own contribution, but also as a symbol of our gratitude and respect for all your colleagues at St Barts and for key workers throughout the NHS.''
Scott said she was overwhelmed to receive the accolade.
''It's amazing for me, but this is not just for me, it's for all the NHS workers who have contributed to the Covid-19 response,'' she said.
''At first I didn't really understand what it meant, but when I did some background research and realised what it was, and who had received it previously, I was so honoured and privileged to even have been considered for it, never mind actually being awarded it. It's amazing, and really a recognition of all the work all NHS staff have been doing during this unprecedented time.''
She said she'd heard rumours that it meant she could get a free beer in any pub in London - and her English fiance may put that to the test - but a definite benefit is that she will be allowed to drive her flock of sheep over London Bridge, to sell in the city, without having to pay a toll (that goes back to the time when bridges were built by private individuals or companies and people had to pay tolls to get across them).
''Being a Kiwi, you can imagine my workmates have been giving me a bit of grief about that one.''
Scott, who went to Kamo High School, then Otago University, said she was initially quite worried for her and her colleagues' safety during the first stages of the Covid pandemic, but now felt comfortable and safe as knowledge of the virus increased.
"We know PPE works so now when I enter that environment I'm not worried. We get tested regularly and to be fair, it's far safer in the hospital than outside.''
She said when she went to London 10 years ago, she never imagined she'd get an award that had previous recipients such as Princess Di, Nelson Mandela, Franklin D Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Florence Nightingale, Benjamin Disraeli, Joan Collins, Dame Vera Lynne, JK Rowling, Pavarotti and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - who is believed to be the only other New Zealander to receive the Freedom of London.
Scott will be officially known as Free Sister and her parents Bruce and Robyn could not be prouder of their daughter.
Bruce said the family was so pleased she would receive the award and was blown away by what it meant and the prestige of the previous recipients. They'll be watching the ceremony online.
Last June, Dame Kiri was admitted but unlike Scott she was not invited to do so by the Lord Mayor, which is rare and limited to people like Florence Nightingale, or Nelson Mandela.
Scott's will also be only the second of this type of Ceremony in the past 900 years - the other was centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore recently and it will be the first ever group virtual ceremony conducted by the Chamberlain of London.
The testimonial from St Barts for Scott says: "Natalie has been an enthusiastic and inspiring presence, whose influence throughout the difficult days of the Covid-19 pandemic has reached way beyond her own team. She has shown that determination to lift everybody's spirits in times of difficulty that has always been the hallmark of the outstanding staff of the hospital.
''This was typified by the video produced by Natalie and her team of therapists as they danced in the square of the hospital. The pleasure and enthusiasm was there for all to see and, not surprisingly, it spread - better than any virus - throughout the patients and staff of the hospital, and throughout the country as it was transmitted on national television.''