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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February, 2005, 14:48 GMT
Ellen to become 'youngest dame'
Ellen MacArthur
Ellen will be made a dame under the Order of the British Empire
When Ellen MacArthur stepped off her trimaran at Falmouth Harbour she became one of Britain's youngest dames.

After her triumph solo-circumnavigating the globe, the 28-year-old is to be made a Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order.

If she accepts, she becomes the youngest to reach such a level - both male and female - in recent times.

However, officials admit they cannot be sure as traditionally ladies were not pressed on points such as age.

Political advice

Ellen will be made a dame under the Order of the British Empire, an order set up by George V to recognise all levels of service during World War 1, no matter the background of the person concerned.

It has since evolved to include service and achievement in all fields.

Anybody can recommend a British national for an honour, which consist of life peerages, knighthoods, appointments to the Order of the British Empire and gallantry awards to servicemen and women and civilians.

Around 70 people a year are awarded honours at the same level as Ellen.

The Queen chooses the recipients on the advice of the prime minister, to whom recommendations are sent either by government ministers or by members of the public. The honours are then published in the official Crown newspaper, the London Gazette.

Hat fears

Becoming a dame is the female equivalent of the knighthood.

The honour of knighthood comes from the days of medieval chivalry, as does the method used to confer the knighthood: the accolade, or the touch of a sword by the sovereign.

Although Knights Bachelor do not comprise an order of chivalry, knighthood is a dignity which has its origins in Britain in Saxon times. They are styled "Sir" (except for clergymen who do not receive the accolade) and their wives "Lady".

Women receiving the honour are styled "dame" but do not receive the accolade. Instead their honour is pinned on them - in order, say officials, to avoid a sword "disaster" caused by their hats.

Investitures are held twice a year at Buckingham Palace and they alternate between the Queen and Prince Phillip.

Once invested, Dame Ellen can not only be addressed using the title - her mail can be sent to Dame Ellen MacArthur DBE. She will be invited to attend a service at St Paul's Cathedral every four years.

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