TWO ALTONIANS have been named Officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in this year’s New Year Honours list.

Dr Gemma Harper – dubbed by friends the ‘Queen of Marine’ – received her OBE thanks to her services to the marine environment.

Having worked as a civil servant for nearly 20 years, she has worked at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for ten years, serving as the deputy director for marine policy for five years.

Citing her work as her “dream job”, Dr Harper said: “My team was responsible for the world-leading ban on microbeads in personal and rinse-off products, which marked a huge, and still growing, public interest in tackling plastic pollution of the ocean.

“Last year, we announced that the UK will support negotiations for a new global agreement to co-ordinate action on marine plastic litter and micro-plastic.

“2021 is being heralded a ‘super year’ for nature and the ocean is a critical part of it.”

On receiving her honour, Dr Harper said she received notification in early December but was “sworn to secrecy”.

She said: “I immediately thought of my beloved mum, who would have jumped for joy had she still been with us. My husband says we still have to share the washing up despite me having an OBE – he’s very good at keeping me grounded.”

Also receiving an OBE was Angela Owen, for her work with Women in Defence UK.

Founded by Angela ten years ago, she said the purpose of the business was to “believe in equality of opportunity, building a better Defence where people can work, learn and thrive”.

On her years of work, she said: “Whether serving on operations or training young soldiers, or leading a squad of women down the steps in the Royal Albert Hall for the Festival of Remembrance, or competing in the Commonwealth Games or simply building the skills and knowledge that have helped create and progress Women in Defence UK, I owe much to defence.”

On the moment she learned of her nomination, Angela said she was in a Microsoft Teams call, but “luckily my camera was turned off so my very wet eyes were not visible”.

She added: “I’m usually fairly articulate but I felt honoured beyond words to receive the OBE. I feel this is recognition for all of the incredible women who work tirelessly in defence of the nation, as well as being validation that they are valued.”