Luton great grandmother Mabel Matthews admits keeping her British Empire Medal a secret until the official announcement in the New Year Honours list today was the hardest thing she’s ever done.
She said: “When I got the letter from the Cabinet Office in November I thought ‘Oh my goodness, oh my gosh, is it true?’
“I was so full of butterflies and excitement, bubbling inside, I just wanted to blurt it out.
“In the end I showed it to my daughter and granddaughter and made them promise not to tell anyone.
“My granddaughter cried; ‘Nanny! Nanny! Nanny!’ She was just as excited as I was, she was over the moon for me.”
Even now, two months later, there’s no denying the delight in Mabel’s voice.
A founder member and long-time chair of the St Kitts and Nevis Friends Association, she was nominated for her tireless voluntary work looking after the town’s growing elderly Caribbean community.
A lunch club was launched in 1998 and today it’s a vibrant and enormously popular venue which provides exercise sessions, craft work and counselling.
In addition, the St Kitts-born stalwart is on the carnival committee.
Mabel, 74, still can’t believe she’ll be going to Buckingham Palace to collect her award.
And she’s hoping husband Claudius, 76, will be well enough to accompany her.
The former Vauxhall worker is currently undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer which was diagnosed shortly after their daughter Donna died from the disease, aged just 46, in March.
Mabel said: “Last year wasn’t a very good one for me. My world was turned upside down.
“Donna wasn’t just my daughter, she was my friend. I nursed her right up until the last week when she went into the hospice.
“A couple of days later, my husband wasn’t well. At first we thought it was the stress of her death. It really took the wind out of my sails, it knocked me back a bit.
“But getting this wonderful, wonderful news bumped me up. I cried, I laughed, I felt so special.”
And she is so grateful for being nominated. “I didn’t do it to get a medal,” she said. “I did it to help people.
“The fact they appreciate what I do and have done this for me . . . I am really, really blessed.
“This doesn’t happen to people like me.” Mabel, a devout Christian, added: “I thank God for my seven children, 15 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. We’re a very close family and get on very well together. God is good to me.
“And that’s why I help anybody and everybody.”