Former Prime Minister Bill English, crooner John Rowles, folk-comedy duo the Topp twins, sex workers' rights activist Catherine Healy and Pacific issues champion Winnie Laban are among New Zealand's newest knights and dames.

Also to be appointed to the titles in today's Queen's Birthday Honours are chemist and women's advocate Emeritus Professor Charmian O'Connor and celebrated waka builder Hekenukumai "Hec" Busby.

READ MORE:
Five dames, three knights: Full 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours list

This year's list of 192 recipients stands out because, for the first time, more women than men are recognised.

Advertisement

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid particular tribute to the "iconic and incorrigible" Jools and Lynda Topp, whose 30 years of performing has included TV shows, documentaries, five best-selling children's audio books and raising awareness for breast cancer.

"They not only have a wonderful ability to entertain people from all walks of life, but have also been life-long advocates of fairness, equality and diversity."

Speaking to the Herald, Lynda Topp joked it was a case of "the rebels getting their medals".

"It's not just for Jools and me, it's for all the people who have supported us over the years."

Like Sir John Key before him, a knighthood for English was widely expected and follows a tradition of former prime ministers receiving the top honours.

Those who weren't made knights or dames, or didn't want the title, were Helen Clark, Jim Bolger, Mike Moore and David Lange - but all four were appointed to the Order of New Zealand, which ranks higher.

English, who left Parliament in March after a 28-year career in politics, told the Herald he was "a bit surprised" by the honour.

"But, nonetheless, the honour is a bit bigger than politics and particularly important for those around me like Mary, my family, the people down south that I represented, those I worked with closely in politics."

Advertisement
Sir William English has been honoured as a Knight Companion, New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the state.

English would go by Sir William on formal occasions, and Mary English would take the title of Lady.

Ardern congratulated English along with the rest of the recipients, many of whom were "quiet achievers" who had given decades of service without seeking accolades.

"I would include Catherine Healy, who becomes a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and who has spent decades working behind the scenes to support some of our most vulnerable workers, in that category."

Former prime minister Bill English, pictured with wife Mary at their Wellington home, is to be appointed a knight for his three decades of service as a politician. Photo / Marty Melville
Former prime minister Bill English, pictured with wife Mary at their Wellington home, is to be appointed a knight for his three decades of service as a politician. Photo / Marty Melville

Healy, who co-founded the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective in 1986 and played a major part in sex work's decriminalisation in 2003, burst into tears the moment she was told of the honour.

"It was completely unexpected. It doesn't happen to me, this stuff. A grand dame."

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio singled out Laban as a "trailblazer", having been New Zealand's first Pacific Island woman MP and first woman Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, among other accomplishments.

Dame Winnie Laban has been honoured as Dame Companion, New Zealand Order of Merit, for her services to education and to the Pacific community.

"Her battle with breast cancer also saw her bring our Pacific community together to discuss health issues in an open, frank and safe environment."

O'Connor, whose legacy lies in the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust, now supporting more than 100 female students a year, reflected on her six decades of championing women's careers.

"But we have still got a long way to go."

Ardern also acknowledged Busby, an esteemed kaumatua and founder of a school for traditional celestial navigation, and Lower Hutt aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett, made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit just months after being named New Zealander of the Year.

Winnie Laban, New Zealand's first Pacific Island woman MP and first woman Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, is to be made a dame. Photo / Marty Melville
Winnie Laban, New Zealand's first Pacific Island woman MP and first woman Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, is to be made a dame. Photo / Marty Melville

"Kristine paved the way for equal pay, working tirelessly in her unassuming way to make life better for women in the aged care and support sector."

Rowles has been made a knight companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Alongside Rowles, best known for his 1970 classic Cheryl Moana Marie, other media and entertainment figures on the list included Roger Shepherd, who founded cultural institution Flying Nun Records; "godfather of comedy" Scott Blanks; sports commentator Grant Nisbett; former RNZ chairman Richard Griffin; celebrity cook Annabel Langbein; and singer Jackie Clarke, who called the honour "a gilt-edged thumbs up".

To Smash Palace and Sleeping Dogs director Roger Donaldson, being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit was "recognition of the contribution, over the last 40 years, that filmmaking has made to New Zealand's discovery of its strong cultural identity".

Kiwi music legend John Rowles has been made a knight for his decades as a leading entertainer. Photo / File
Kiwi music legend John Rowles has been made a knight for his decades as a leading entertainer. Photo / File

Recipients from the sports world included Black Ferns captain Fiaoo Faamuausili, netball great Tracey Fear, Paralympics New Zealand boss Fiona Allan, equestrian Andrew Nicholson, triathlete Andrea Hewitt, and firefighter and former Black Fern captain Rochelle Martin.

The New Zealand Bravery Decoration was awarded to McDonald's Petone store manager Mike Riley and to "Police Officer S" for their heroic deeds in an armed stand-off at the restaurant in 2015.

Former Fish & Game New Zealand boss Bryce Johnson was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his 30 years of service to the environment, which Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage called an "incredible contribution".