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Former Sunderland schoolgirl who pioneered UK coronavirus testing receives CBE

A former Sunderland schoolgirl who pioneered the UK’s coronavirus testing programme has been honoured by the Queen.

By Kevin Clark
Sunday, 10th April 2022, 6:00 am

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Kristen McLeod visited Windsor Castle to receive her CBE for service to Life Sciences.

Kristen, 39, studied at St Anthony’s Girls Catholic Academy and Durham Johnston Comprehensive before heading south in 2001 to read History and French at University College London.

She joined the civil service in 2005 and has worked in the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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Her most recent role was Director of the Office for Life Sciences, which saw her take a front-line role in the development of the UK’s coronavirus testing programme.

"Life Sciences is the application of science to the improvement of human health,” she said.

"Since I started this role in 2017, I have been responsible for the development and implementation of the government’s life sciences strategy. The pandemic proved how important it is to have a thriving life sciences industry in the UK.”

She was actually named in last year’s Birthday Honours but has had to wait until now for the presentation.

Kristen with her CBE

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Kristen lives in London with husband Innes McFee and children, Isabella, five, and three-year-old Alexander. She is currently on maternity leave following the birth of daughter Charlotte four months ago.

She didn’t have that far to go to collect her honour: “We live in Wimbledon and we went to Windsor Castle, where it was presented by Princess Anne,” she said.

“Normally you can take three people to a ceremony but this time I could only take one, so I took my husband.

The presentation took place at Windsor Castle

“It was a really lovely day – they did a great job of making it feel really special.

“We were able to drive right up to the castle, which was nice, then walk through the gardens and go round the state apartments.”

Kristen may be off work at the moment, but the pandemic still made itself felt, with the actual investiture held in a separate room from the waiting area: “It was quite intimate, “ she said.

"I think it is being done differently at the moment – I’m sure it is normally done in a big room full of people.

"It was a really nice experience.”