RNLI Supporters and Volunteers included in New Year Honours

Lifeboats News Release

Dedicated RNLI supporters and volunteers, including Stuart Popham QC - the Chairman of the RNLI, were among those recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours announced today


Evelyn Bennett - Chair of the Donaghadee fundraising branch

RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier said: “The RNLI depends on the tremendous courage, commitment and skill of its volunteers, staff and fundraisers and those that have been named in this year’s New Year Honours truly exemplify those qualities. I am immensely proud of all our tireless staff and volunteers who received Honours this year – it is wonderful that these well-deserving people have been recognised in this way, we could not carry on our lifesaving work without them.”

Port Talbot RNLI volunteer Robert ‘Robbie’ Harris, who has volunteered for over 34 years was awarded the MBE for his dedication and service to saving lives at sea.

Robbie, who recently stepped down from the daily running of the station as Lifeboat Operations Manager, has taken part in many rescues. In 1995 he was awarded an RNLI gallantry medal for his courage, initiative and seamanship when he was transferred to a converted ships lifeboat which had been disabled in gale force winds and high seas. He was able to secure a tow and provide reassurance to the three persons on board whilst the vessel was taken to safety.

Still in shock of receiving the news, Robbie said: ‘I was totally surprised and taken aback when I was informed of this award. I never expected anything like this to happen to me. I could not have done it without the wonderful support of the crew, past and present also my management and fundraising teams. ‘

RNLI volunteer safety officer John Soones has been awarded the BEM for his invaluable work in preventing drowning along the Thames and for his efforts in trying to reduce the number of suicides on the river.

John originally joined the RNLI as a Governor nearly 40 years ago after the RNLI helped rescue him following a diving accident. In later life he applied to become crew at Chiswick Lifeboat Station but finding himself too old to serve on the lifeboat he became a voluntary Lifeboat Sea Safety Officer in the capital.

Working tirelessly with many partner organisations he has helped drive forward a wide range of safety initiatives to help reduce the number of drownings on the river.

John said: ‘I’m delighted that the work I’ve done over the past ten years has been recognised in some way. I’m one member of a very big team – there are a lot of people walking around today who wouldn’t be otherwise because of the work we’ve done.’

Holyhead lifeboat man Graham Drinkwater has also been recognised with an MBE for his dedication and commitment to the lifesaving charity.

Graham from Holyhead was brought up a stone’s throw away from the lifeboat station and as a child he would rush to watch the lifeboat launch. At the age of 16 he was too young to join the crew, so made his way into the station by taking on shore-based roles before joining the crew at 17.

Graham’s first ever service call came when he was 19 years old, a rescue mission to save the Greek cargo ship Nafsiporos. Unbeknownst to him, this rescue was set to go down in history and he was awarded a medal for bravery after the heroic rescue of 19 crew from a freighter in 100mph hurricane winds and 35 foot waves. Not to be deterred by such a dramatic experience, he went on to give many years of unwavering service to the lifeboat station. Before changing roles to from crew member to leading the station’s volunteers as Lifeboat Operations Manager, Graham had assisted 439 lives at sea during his time as crew.

Inspirational RNLI fundraiser, Sue Webster, was also awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List for her determination and dedication.

Her greatest achievement has been to establish a strong relationship between the RNLI and people within the City of Liverpool. Having firmly established the Port of Liverpool Fundraising Branch in the minds of the city, the branch has flourished under her watchful eye and is beautifully representative of the diversity and enthusiastic nature of the Liverpudlian people.

Sue said: ‘I became involved with the RNLI 12 years ago after I lost my dad who was a great supporter of the RNLI. I formed the Port of Liverpool Branch 10 years ago and we are a great team. We would like to thank the generous people of Liverpool who have helped us achieve our best year to date. The award will be very special and will be for us all to celebrate.’

Archie Smith, A Vice President of the RNLI Council, who has devoted more than thirty years of service, both in fund-raising and advising on the strategic direction of the charity, has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to the charity.

Archie’s first contact with the RNLI was as a boy. His father had grown up on Roa Island, Barrow-in-Furness, and he had seen the lifeboat there. Both his parents were involved in fund-raising and, after the family moved to Rickmansworth Archie became involved in running the Rickmansworth and Chorleywood Fundraising Branch of the RNLI.

A mariner by profession (he served in the Merchant Navy from 1966 to 1977), he then undertook a degree in Maritime Studies and worked in the oil industry until 1995 before becoming Chief Executive of Oil Spill Response Ltd, an international industry funded cooperative which works to prevent and responds to oil spills anywhere in the world.

Archie said: ‘We can have such a fantastic impact with a small amount of money, so we should be doing it. The commitment of people in the RNLI, the lifeboat men and women, continues to astound me.’

Evelyn Bennett, who has been the Chair of the Donaghadee Royal National Lifeboat Institution fundraising branch since 2005 was also honoured with a British Empire Medal (BEM).

Evelyn has galvanised the local community to fundraise for their lifeboat station and to support them in their life-saving work and activities. Evelyn is a key organiser of the annual Donaghadee Lifeboat Festival which is now in its 12th year. The festival brings thousands of people of all age groups, to the town, to view the station's lifeboat and to get to know the lifeboat crew and fundraising team.

Evelyn’s passion for the RNLI is a family held one. Her late husband Murdoch was a volunteer with the lifeboat for over thirty years and the tradition is proudly carried on by her son, Ross. Her enthusiasm, good humour and dedication shines through and encourages all those around her to give what they can in support of the lifeboat.

Commenting on her award of the British Empire Medal, Evelyn said, ‘I am overwhelmed to have been chosen to receive this honour. The RNLI is a charity I am proud to volunteer for and its one that is very close to my heart. When we set up the new branch in 2005, we brought a great team together who worked tirelessly to support the station and we are still doing it today.’

Also honoured was RNLI Chairman Stuart Popham QC who was appointed a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) for his exceptional work as the Chair of the Chatham House international think tank - strengthening Britain’s contribution to international political and economic relations.

With a distinguished career in law, business and the charitable sector, Stuart has been a lifetime supporter and became a member of the Council in 2011 and the Chairman in 2016. Stuart said: “It was honour enough to serve on the Council and then as the Chairman of The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). To be appointed CMG is very special. It is a reflection of the world leading reputation of Chatham House and all associated with it.”



Graham Drinkwater - Holyhead crew member


John Soones - volunteer safety officer


Sue Webster - volunteer fundraiser


Robbie Harris - Port Talbot volunteer


Stuart Popham - RNLI Chairman

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.