A retired ear, nose and throat surgeon from South London has joined a select band of Britons awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest public distinction.
Harold Holden, 82, was presented with the award by the French Ambassador, Bernard Emie, at a dinner in his honour at the London embassy.
Family and friends of Mr Holden were among those who heard Mr Emie praise his contribution to medical research, in particular his voluntary work over the past 20 years at the Dispensaire Francaise in Hammersmith.
The French Government-backed clinic serves French and French-speaking patients unable to access the NHS.
Mr Holden was also presented with the insignia of the Ordre des Palmes Academiques, recognising an outstanding contribution to France’s cultural heritage.
Raised in Hendon but now living in Barnes, Mr Holden is a former director of the ENT unit at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School and a leading authority in ENT treatment.
His association with France began at 19, when he went to Paris to study medicine.
During a career which took him around the world, he regularly piloted his own aeroplane to Le Bourget airport to attend meetings with French researchers.
Sir Paul McCartney, Lord Olivier, JK Rowling and Harold Pinter are among previous recipients of the Legion d’Honneur, which is rarely awarded to those in the medical profession.
“It came entirely out of the blue,” Mr Holden said.
“So it was a great surprise for me and [an honour] I shall cherish very much.”