Honours scandal: Firm boasted it could get ‘damehood for £80k’

A firm boasted it could win a gong for a celebrity author for £80,000, the Daily Mail reveals.

Leaked emails expose a cynical offer to help Barbara Taylor Bradford become a dame by getting direct feedback from ‘the people that matter’.

The brazen messages stated: ‘Basically our fee is 80K plus VAT… we bill half up front and half once the damehood has been awarded.’ 

Hundreds of applicants have used fee-paying companies to help win honours – a practice critics say devalues the entire system.

Leaked emails seen by the mail show how Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured right) was targeted by PR guru Paul Blanchard (left) over claims he could earn her a damehood by paying £80,000, a practice which could devalue the entire honours system

Leaked emails seen by the mail show how Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured right) was targeted by PR guru Paul Blanchard (left) over claims he could earn her a damehood by paying £80,000, a practice which could devalue the entire honours system

Leaked emails seen by the mail show how Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured right) was targeted by PR guru Paul Blanchard (left) over claims he could earn her a damehood by paying £80,000, a practice which could devalue the entire honours system 

An urgent investigation was called for last night by the chairman of the House of Commons standards committee. A former sleaze watchdog called for an immediate ban.

A Cabinet Office source admitted fee-charging was ‘damaging’ to the reputation of the honours system and it was considering how to discourage it.

Mrs Taylor Bradford was targeted by PR guru Paul Blanchard, whose firm Right Angles bombarded her with claims that he could help her to secure a damehood.

It is part of a service he provides to ‘work behind the scenes’ to help clients make the ‘right connections’ during applications for knighthoods, OBEs, CBEs and MBEs. The writer, who has an OBE, rejected the pitch.

The details emerged in a Mail investigation into how tycoons and celebrities are among those sometimes paying tens of thousands to firms to try to secure honours. It can also be revealed that:

  • Another honours application company, Bayleaf Honours, told undercover reporters it had been hired by ‘extremely high profile A-list showbusiness and sports stars’;
  • A third firm, Awards Intelligence, claims to have a 65 per cent success rate in securing honours for clients – compared with just 10 per cent for those who don’t use its services;
  • It boasts of the lucrative ‘business benefits of getting a gong’ and claims staff spend 150 hours on researching and drafting each nomination;
  • The same company offers graded services named ‘Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham’. one of which includes 15 ‘professionally drafted letters of support’.

Anyone can nominate an individual for an honour for free on the Government’s website. They must submit a written explanation and at least two supporting letters from others. You cannot nominate yourself.

Nominations are reviewed by independent honours committees before recommendations are put to the main committee, the Prime Minister and eventually the Queen. The process is overseen by the Cabinet Office.

It is illegal to buy or sell honours or to pay to influence the decision makers and civil servants – but there is no law against getting help with applications.

The Mail found three companies prepared to offer to organise applications and supporting letters for a hefty fee. One was Right Angles, run by failed former Labour parliamentary candidate Mr Blanchard, which boasts on its website that it will ‘work behind the scenes to help you secure the recognition you deserve’.

It adds: ‘We assist you in optimising your chances of being awarded a UK honour by raising and shaping your profile appropriately, helping you make the right connections and creating the right first impression. 

‘We provide a discreet, comprehensive service, which is tailored to your needs, giving you the best possible chance of success.’

The firm says there are no guarantees and it only works with those it believes have the achievements and qualities to receive a gong.

There is no suggestion that Right Angles used unlawful methods.

Mr Blanchard approached Mrs Taylor Bradford in March after she appeared on a podcast he hosts.

Emails seen by the Mail show Mr Blanchard asking the author’s advisers for an initial payment of £40,000 and another £40,000 ‘once the damehood is awarded’, which he said could be in ‘nine months, a year max’. 

The fee to help secure an OBE, MBE or knighthood is an initial £40,000 payment up front and another £40,000 once the honour has been awarded, which can take up to a year

The fee to help secure an OBE, MBE or knighthood is an initial £40,000 payment up front and another £40,000 once the honour has been awarded, which can take up to a year

The fee to help secure an OBE, MBE or knighthood is an initial £40,000 payment up front and another £40,000 once the honour has been awarded, which can take up to a year 

THE FIRM’S DAMNING OFFER THAT BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD REJECTED

‘Basically our fee is 80K plus VAT for a damehood… we bill half up front and half once the damehood has been awarded.’

‘If we work together I am almost certain that Barbara will have the damehood within 9-12 months. 

‘We have not failed a client yet. The key issue is: we can make the application a success.’

‘I can’t say too much in writing of course, but the reason we are so successful is that we employ former civil servants who have been extensively involved in the honours process. 

‘We get feedback directly from the people that matter before the application is submitted ensuring that we can make sure the application ticks the ‘right boxes’ for that year’s honours cohort, ensuring the application is absolutely perfect and ensuring success.’ 

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In another email he said: ‘I can’t say too much in writing of course, but the reason we are so successful is that we employ former civil servants who have been extensively involved in the honours process.

‘We get feedback directly from the people that matter before the application is submitted ensuring that we can make sure the application ticks the ‘right boxes’ for that year’s honours cohort, ensuring the application is absolutely perfect and ensuring success.’

Questioned about the emails, Mr Blanchard said there was nothing improper and that he was simply referring to former civil servants with expertise.

The novelist’s spokesman said she rejected the request and would never do anything to bring the honours system into disrepute.

Mr Blanchard’s firm also created a 12-page document outlining a strategy to secure Calvin Harris a knighthood, advising him to become an ambassador to charities such as the NSPCC because it is ‘beneficial in the honours process’.

The DJ, who has not been awarded an honour, did not respond to requests for comment. There is no suggestion he knew the document was being drafted on his behalf.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said last night: ‘I’m really shocked that such companies are in existence. It totally devalues the honours arrangements. The honours committee should find some way of stopping this practice.’

Labour MP Chris Bryant, chairman of the standards committee, said the practice should be banned.

‘These companies are parasitic leeches,’ he added. ‘This needs to be investigated by the Government.’

Lib Dem MP and leadership candidate Layla Moran said: ‘Honours should go to people who work tirelessly in our communities. They deserve a honour.

‘Not those who can afford to shell out thousands to help them win a gong. This brings dishonour on the honours system.’

A Cabinet Office spokesman dismissed Mr Blanchard’s claims he would receive feedback from ‘people who matter’ before an application was submitted. ‘This claim is nonsense – honours are earned, not bought and the process cannot be influenced,’ they said.

A 12-page document from Mr Blanchard's firm revealed plans to earn DJ Calvin Harris (pictured left) a knighthood, advising to become an ambassador to charities such as the NSPCC

A 12-page document from Mr Blanchard's firm revealed plans to earn DJ Calvin Harris (pictured left) a knighthood, advising to become an ambassador to charities such as the NSPCC

A 12-page document from Mr Blanchard’s firm revealed plans to earn DJ Calvin Harris (pictured left) a knighthood, advising to become an ambassador to charities such as the NSPCC

‘Attempting to ‘sell’ honours is illegal. Anyone who suspects wrongdoing should contact the police.’

The spokesman added: ‘We do not endorse the use of fee-charging services when submitting nominations.’

A source insisted the integrity of the process was not compromised but said the office was considering how to better discourage people from using these services to draft nomination forms.

Mr Blanchard said he was proud of the ‘entirely legal and above board’ service he provided.

He added: ‘The awards process really is wholly independent – no one can ever guarantee a result.’

Brazen boast of another company charging £40,000 for the ‘Ultimate’ honours application package

Awards Intelligence claims to have a 65 per cent success rate in gaining Queen’s Honours for its clients, some of whom are charged up to £40,000 for its ‘Ultimate’ service.

A glossy brochure reveals the Mayfair-based company’s pricing structure – from the ‘Windsor’ package at £4,900 plus VAT, the Balmoral deal at £7,900, up to the £14,900 Sandringham service, which includes 15 ‘professionally drafted letters of support’ and an 8,000-word ghost-written nomination.

For between £35,000 and £40,000, it will provide candidates with their ‘Ultimate’ package, which includes the direct involvement of its chief executive, Mark Llewellyn-Slade.

Marketing literature is emblazoned with pictures of well-known figures receiving their honours, including Baroness Michelle Mone and Olympic dressage gold medallist Carl Hester, with only a tiny disclaimer on the final page to clarify these individuals are not clients.

Baroness Mone said she had never heard of Awards Intelligence and was ‘furious’ they had used her image, while Mr Hester branded it ‘misleading’ and said he was shocked.

An employee from the firm, which has been operating for 13 years, told an undercover reporter it has worked with 900 clients in total, with up to 200 a year now signing up.

It was revealed in 2015 that Dragons’ Den star James Caan had paid £5,000 to the company and was later awarded a CBE.

Mr Llewellyn-Slade, who runs Awards Intelligence, said it was a transparent process because there was a box on the application form they were required to tick to show the nomination had been professionally prepared. 

He said the company had ‘informal feedback from the Cabinet Office’ that they like well-presented nominations and the firm actually helped bring ‘really worthy candidates to the attention of the Honours system.’

He said: ‘It’s predominantly about giving extraordinary, ordinary people the opportunity to get the recognition they deserve.’

‘We help A-list showbiz and sport clients – but make sure no one knows they are working with us’

Bayleaf Honours charges £1,995 plus VAT for its services but also has a DIY package for £200-£400.

The firm says its clients include ‘A-list showbiz and sports stars’ as well as charity workers and business leaders.

Officially you cannot nominate yourself for an honour, but boss Mike McKie told an undercover reporter that seven in ten of his clients were ‘self-nominating’. In these cases, the client appoints a trusted colleague or friend who agrees to be their official nominator.

Bayleaf Honours then does ‘all the work in the form’ but makes sure it is submitted from the email of the official nominator because ‘we keep ourselves out of it’, Mr McKie said.

The official nominator knows of the company’s involvement but none of those subsequently contacted to write letters backing the application are told the nominee has hired Bayleaf Honours and is ‘paying the bill’.

Mr McKie added: ‘We operate in a way to make sure their name is never associated with working with a company like us.

‘So when we reach out to get letters of support, obviously we would never say “this person is nominating themselves”. We would say, “we are working on behalf of an anonymous client who wishes to nominate X for an honour”. So discretion is built into what we do.’

Mr McKie said: ‘It’s not cash for honours, we don’t have secret access to people, we don’t do secret lobbying.

‘We know how the process works and we just take all of the facts in the nominees’ case and work with the supporters and just make sure a great case gets presented that is compelling and clear and meets all of the criteria. We don’t promise success.’

He declined to reveal exactly what the company’s success rate is but said it is better than the average of 10 per cent of all public applications. This is partly because the firm turns down four in ten requests because it does not think they stand a genuine chance.

The process takes from six to eight weeks and at any one time the firm is working with around 30 clients.

A spokesman for Bayleaf Honours said: ‘We always make it clear to prospective clients – as we did to your undercover reporter – that there is a free option directly on the Government website, and that we promise no access or influence directly on the honours process.’

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