Honours scandal exposed: Leaked emails reveal cynical offer to help author become a dame

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 at the start and half once the damehood has been awarded.’ 

Hundreds of applicants used fee-paying businesses 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 that he could earn her a damehood by paying £80,000, a practice which may devalue the whole honours system 

An urgent investigation was required last night by the chairman of the House of Commons standards committee. A former sleaze watchdog called for a sudden 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 element of a service he provides to ‘work behind the scenes’ to help customers make the ‘right connections’ during applications for knighthoods, OBEs, CBEs and MBEs. The writer, who comes with an OBE, rejected the pitch.

The details emerged in a Mail investigation into how tycoons and celebrities are among those sometimes paying countless amounts to firms to decide to try to secure honours. It can also be unmasked 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 % success rate in securing honours for clients – compared with just 10 % for those who avoid using its services;
  • It boasts of the lucrative ‘business great things about 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’. certainly 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 the others. You can’t nominate your self.

Nominations are reviewed by independent honours committees before tips are put to the main committee, the Prime Minister and in the end 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 absolutely no law against getting help with applications.

The Mail found three businesses 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 help you in optimising your chances of being awarded a UK honour by raising and shaping your profile appropriately, assisting you to make the proper connections and creating the proper first impression. 

‘We provide a discreet, comprehensive service, that is tailored to your needs, providing you with the best possible potential for success.’

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

There is not any suggestion that Right Angles used unlawful methods.

Mr Blanchard approached Mrs Taylor Bradford in March after she appeared on a podcast that 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 might 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 at the start and yet another £40,000 once the honour has been awarded, which could 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 at the start and half once the damehood has been awarded.’

‘If we work together I’m almost sure that Barbara may have the damehood within 9-12 months. 

‘We never have failed a client yet. The key issue is: we can make the application a success.’

‘I cannot say a lot of in writing needless to say, but the reason we are so successful is that we employ former civil servants who’ve been extensively mixed up in honours process. 

‘We get feedback directly from the folks that matter before the application is submitted ensuring that we are able to make sure the application form ticks the ‘right boxes’ for that year’s honours cohort, ensuring the application is completely perfect and ensuring success.’ 

In another email he said: ‘I cannot say a lot of in writing needless to say, but the reason we are so successful is that we employ former civil servants who’ve been extensively mixed up in honours process.

‘We get feedback directly from the people that matter prior to the application is submitted making certain we can ensure the application ticks the ‘right boxes’ for that year’s honours cohort, ensuring the application form is absolutely perfect and ensuring success.’

Questioned concerning 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 is not awarded an honour, didn’t 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 yesterday evening: ‘I’m really shocked that such organizations are in existence. It totally devalues the honours arrangements. The honours committee should find a way of stopping this practice.’

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

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

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

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

A Cabinet Office spokesman dismissed Mr Blanchard’s claims however receive feedback from ‘people who matter’ before a credit card applicatoin was submitted. ‘This claim is nonsense – honours are earned, not bought and the method 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

‘Attempting to ‘sell’ honours is illegal. Anyone who suspects wrongdoing should contact law enforcement.’

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

A source insisted the integrity of the process had not been compromised but said any 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 offer 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 because of its clients, a few of whom are charged up to £40,000 because of 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, including 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 using their ‘Ultimate’ package, which includes the direct involvement of its chief executive, Mark Llewellyn-Slade.

Marketing literature is emblazoned with images 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 last page to clarify him or her are not customers.

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

An employee from the firm, which has been operating for 13 years, told an undercover reporter it spent some time working with 900 clients altogether, with up to 200 a year now registering.

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

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

He said the business 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 nobody knows they’re 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’ along with 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 ensures it is submitted from the e-mail of the state nominator because ‘we keep ourselves out of it’, Mr McKie said.

The official nominator knows of the company’s involvement but none of the 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 ensure their name is never associated with working together with a company like us.

‘So once we reach out to get letters of support, obviously we might 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 made 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 ensure a great case gets presented that’s compelling and clear and meets every one of the criteria. We don’t promise success.’

He declined to reveal just what the company’s success rate is but said it is advisable than the average of 10 per cent of most public applications. This is partly since the firm turns down four in ten requests since 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 together 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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