SHE’S the people’s princess in Oxfordshire who has ‘enriched the lives of many vulnerable people’, now Courtney Hughes is leading the way in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours.

Royal recognition came in a crown-emblazoned envelope delivered through the door of 17 Oxfordshire residents including the county’s own Secret Santa from Didcot.

For seven years, 21-year-old Ms Hughes has been surprising hospital patients and families in crisis by delivering more than 30,000 gifts to the elderly and vulnerable.

This time it was her turn to receive a surprise delivery, one announcing a royal seal of approval from Her Majesty the Queen and with it a British Empire Medal (BEM).

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She said: “I got a very fancy letter in the post with the Buckingham Palace stamp on the back.

“I opened it and just cried for quite a while, I couldn’t believe it.”

Talking about keeping it a secret for the past week, Ms Hughes added: “It has been quite difficult, they rang me the other day and said I was only allowed to tell immediate family and my manager at work – but you just want to shout about it.”

A British Empire Medal is awarded by Her Majesty ‘for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown’. Ms Hughes has been awarded the honour for services to older and vulnerable people in Oxfordshire.

Ms Hughes first launched her charity Secret Santa (since rebranded Secret Santa 365) in 2012 when she was just 13.

She started by taking gifts to her great nan Elise Richardson, who was taken into hospital just before Christmas, and after her passing decided to continue collecting and distributing gifts to the elderly and vulnerable.

Witney Gazette:

In the seven years since, Ms Hughes – who is also a full-time senior nursing assistant at the John Radcliffe Hospital – has delivered 30,000 presents worth a staggering £250,000 to local charities, hospitals, care homes, food banks, and homeless outreach events.

Her dedicated and continued efforts have bagged her donations from all over the world, as well as recognition from Prime Minister Theresa May, features in publications in the US and Japan, and now the royal recognition from Her Majesty the Queen.

The former Didcot Girls' School student added: “It is a really beautiful thing to see it has gone from something really small to being really big where the whole community is involved.

"I have met so many people over the years and everyone has become an adoptive family, it is always expanding, I love it.”

When asked how she would feel meeting the royals when receiving the honour, Ms Hughes said: “I am really excited about meeting new people and letting more people know about the charity.

“I went to Harry and Meghan’s wedding and we were quite near the royals which was exciting, but I have never met a royal.

“I would be quite nervous about all that including the service, but I am sure I will just wing it.”

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Ms Hughes will be one of 17 Oxfordshire residents hobnobbing with the royals after being named in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

Among those joining Ms Hughes being awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the honours include Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service watch manager David Arlott, from Faringdon, for services to fire and rescue in Oxfordshire, and Oxford University Hospitals trust lead cancer nurse Karen Mitchell, from Kidlington, for services to cancer patients and to nursing.

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Also bestowed with the BEM are choral and musical director John Gibbons, of Great Haseley, for services to music, Thames Valley Police volunteer Anne Cunningham, from Faringdon, for services to policing and the community, and Susan James for services to Save the Children.

Those made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) include soprano Sophie Bevan for services to music, director of EU Regulatory Affairs National Grid Mark Pickles, from Didcot, for services to the electricity market, and Matthew Arnold School, Botley, headteacher Katherine Ryan for services to education.

Also announced as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was foster carer of 27 years Christine Kitashima.

The 80-year-old, from Great Milton, was made an MBE for services to fostering in Oxfordshire which she continues to dedicate her life to.

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So much so, she is still in touch with the first person she fostered in 1992.

She said: “To be a recipient of such a prestigious award is overwhelming and I did become filled with emotion to receive the news. This is such an honour and I am forever grateful to have been nominated.”

"Having worked for several years as a residential social worker, the childrens home was closing as the local authority were placing more children in foster care.

"I decided I could continue working with young people in my own home.

“Twenty-seven years later I still enjoy my profession, have many wonderful memories and I am proud of the young people that I have been privileged to look after.”

Those made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the honours include librarian at the Bodleian Library Richard Ovenden, of Wolvercote, for services to libraries and to archives.

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Joining him is Sally Munday, from Crowell, for services to hockey; Kellogg College former director professor Malcolm Airs, from Wallingford, for services to the historic environment, conservation, and education, and finally Oxford University professor Shantashil Mitter for services to education.

Entrepreneur Anthony Laithwaite, from Henley-on-Thames, was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the UK and Global wine industry.

Also made a CBE, Barnaby Lenon from the London Academy of Excellence for services to education.

Oxford University professor Peter Donnelly was made a Knights Bachelor (knighthood) for services to the understanding of human genetics in disease.