The Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive, who brought the Tour de France to the county last summer, said he was “chuffed to bits” at official confirmation of the accolade – and the fact that he was no longer sworn to secrecy. “Such things are reserved for people who climb Everest, win four or five Olympic gold medals, win the Tour de France, not for ordinary people like me,” he said.
“I reckon 20,000 people all give it their best shot. I hope they can take a lot of pleasure and comfort from this. In many ways, this is for the people of Yorkshire who bought the dream and went with it in such tremendous fashion.”
The knighthood completes a year to remember for Leeds-born Sir Gary who also celebrated his 50th birthday during last year’s Tour before marrying schoolteacher Anne Dargan last December. They met after Sir Gary’s first wife, Helen, died from cancer in 2009.
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Nick Weller, the executive principal of the Bradford academy where a teacher was stabbed on Thursday, is another local recipient of a knighthood while a change of title is also on the cards for singer-songwriter Van Morrison who heads the glittering array of celebrities being honoured for their contribution to public life.
Sir Gary hopes the successful staging of two world-class cycling events will be the catalyst for Yorkshire’s business and political leaders to work together to help the county to become a world-leading economic force.
He believes that the Grand Départ and Tour de Yorkshire offer a template for the future as this region looks to hold its own against Britain’s devolved nations – and a resurgent Greater Manchester that will be the first beneficiary of the Government’s new-look devolution policy.
“Two words are important – big picture,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “Stick to the biggest common denominator and not the lowest common denominator. Together we are stronger. With 5.4 million people, we have a bigger population than Scotland, twice the population of Wales and four times the population of Northern Ireland.
“We need to look at what is happening politically north of the border. The fact of the matter is that there is this glue which binds Scotland together, and which we have the potential to achieve in Yorkshire. The Scots would not be as influential if Inverness danced a different tune to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
“If everyone fragmented down the line, they would not have the influence that they have now. We need to learn from this. And it brings me back to cycling, and Sir Dave Brailsford’s aggregate of marginal gains that have been so important to the success enjoyed by British Cycling, Team Sky and many others.
“If every town, city and village puts in an extra half per cent of effort, and you add that all together, you have something very powerful. If you dissipate this energy, and we all go on our own way, we don’t work as effectively. It’s the strength of the peloton.”
In many respects, Sir Gary says some of his most abiding memories of last summer’s Tour de France opening stages were created by those communities that did not even future on the route because they embraced the “big picture”.
“My raison d’être was we needed a game-changing event so not to be squeezed between a booming London and a resurgent Scotland,” he added.
“I also believe Yorkshire’s position in the Northern Powerhouse is much stronger because we made politicians stand up and take notice. It took an event from an overseas neighbour to realise how much we do love this county and how we are stronger if we all do things collegiately.”