Tony Blair’s appointment to the Order of the Garter will spark speculation over whether similar honours are in the offing for his successors as prime minister Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May.
Unconfirmed reports last year suggested that the delay in honouring Blair was acting as a “gong-blocker” for later PMs.
Knight companionship of the Order is awarded personally by the Queen, and sources were reported to have said that she was reluctant to invite Mr Blair to join because of anger at his handling of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
At the time, the new prime minister urged the sovereign to return to London from Balmoral and make a public statement about the death of Diana, who he dubbed the “People’s Princess”.
All but two of the Queen’s nine PMs before Blair were made Knights of the Garter, an honour created by Edward III in 1348. Harold Macmillan declined the offer, while Sir Alec Douglas-Home was already a knight of the Order of the Thistle before entering No 10 in 1963.
But only one has had to wait as long as Mr Blair for the honour – Edward Heath, who was appointed to the Order in 1992, 18 years after leaving office in 1974.
Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson took knighthoods immediately after departing Downing Street, while Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher had to wait around five years and Major and James Callaghan eight. Anthony Eden was already a Companion of the Order before becoming PM in 1955.
The Sunday Times last year reported that the delay in honouring Blair was preventing similar titles for his successors.
Courtiers were said to be keen to address a political imbalance because among the 102 members of the four most coveted honours — the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, the Order of Merit and the Order of Companions of Honour — Tory politicians outnumber their Labour counterparts by more than five to one.
It was reported that rebalancing the system could also benefit Labour grandees including John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman.
However, Heath’s long wait indicates that there is no formal bar to prime ministers being appointed to the Order ahead of their predecessors, as both of his Labour successors Wilson and Callaghan became Garter knights before him.
Royal sources last year dismissed suggestions that the Queen was blocking a similar honour for Blair as “absurd”, saying that reports suggested “a pettiness that simply does not exist”.