Johnian helping vaccines roll-out, opera singers and Royal curator receive Queen’s Birthday Honours

“Throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of everyday heroes”

Four alumni from St John’s have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for their extraordinary work in the arts and in shaping the UK’s Covid-19 vaccines strategy.

The list of 1,129 people demonstrates the efforts made by individuals in all four nations of the United Kingdom during the pandemic. They include St John’s alumnus Oliver Excell, Project Manager on the Vaccine Task Force, who has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Alumna Dr Kate Heard, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, has been made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO), while the honours list also includes two professional opera singers and supporters of the arts who studied at St John’s: Allan Clayton, who has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to opera, and Dr Jeremy Huw Williams, who has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to music and charity.

The honours system celebrates the people who work to change the world around them for the better. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of everyday heroes. From those using their expertise to help develop life-saving vaccines, which are now being rolled out successfully to all parts of the UK, to the people who have given time and energy to care for their communities.

“We should take heart from the stories of those receiving honours and be inspired by their courage and kindness. May they be a reminder of all that we can achieve when we come together as a society.”

Oliver Excell
Oliver Excell.

Mr Excell read Natural Sciences at St John’s from 1995-1998 and gained his MA at the College in 2002. Since July 2020, Mr Excell has been central to the UK’s Vaccine Task Force, which sits within the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The VTF’s role is to secure access to promising vaccines for the UK population, make provision for international distribution of vaccines, and support industrial strategy by establishing a long-term vaccine strategy plan to prepare the UK for future pandemics.

Mr Excell, who worked closely with global pharmaceutical companies to lead the procurement and supply of vaccines, including the Pfizer vaccine, said: “The Vaccines Task Force, in collaboration with industry, academia and the NHS, has achieved what many thought was impossible at the start of the pandemic – developing and deploying a Covid-19 vaccine in less than 12 months. This is a testament to the incredible vision and leadership of the VTF, and a fantastic ‘rainbow’ team of highly talented people. Therefore this award is gratefully received in behalf of the wider VTF.”

Dr Heard did her History of Art PhD in 2000-2005. She was one of several members of staff from the Royal Collection Trust – a charity caring for the Royal Collection – to be recognised personally by the Queen in an award bestowed independently from Downing Street.

Mr Clayton, an English tenor, did a Choral Studentship from 2000-2003 and an Archaeology and Anthropology BA. He went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music and continued his successful singing career.

Jeremy Huw Williams photo
Jeremy Huw Williams. Photo credit: Raphaelle Photography.

Welsh baritone Dr Williams was a Choral Student at St John's from 1987-1991, before studying for a Music BA, Mus.B and an MA. He graduated in 1994 and went to the National Opera Studio in London, before making his debut in the Welsh National Opera and a career spanning the globe. Since 2016 Dr Williams, who also has a PhD and DMus, has been on the Board of Trustees of the Music in Hospitals and Care charity, and from 2019-2020 he was President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the UK's professional body for musicians. 

Dr Williams said: “I was delighted to be awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021 for services to music and charity. It was my privilege to be President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians at the start of the pandemic, promoting the cause of more than 10,000 professional musicians at this time of crisis for the arts.”

Eight current individuals from the University of Cambridge and its Colleges were also recognised in the honours list, which was announced on 11 June.

Find the full 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list in The London Gazette

Published: 18/06/2021

Back to College News