'I thought it was a tax bill!' - Top underwater photographer living in Peterborough wins MBE in Queen's Birthday Honours
A leading underwater photographer who has showcased his work to the Queen could be meeting the monarch once again after being included in her birthday honours list.
Award winner Dr Alexander Mustard, who lives in Hawksbill Way, near the Peterborough United stadium, admitted he was shocked to receive an MBE for underwater photography and even mistook the letter informing him of his honour as a tax bill.
The 43-year-old, who had just returned from the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador when notice of his MBE arrived, said: "This letter came and it said on it 'Her Majesty's Service'.
"I thought it was a tax bill. I did not even open it - I left it for a while then opened it. I was absolutely shocked.
"It's definitely one of those letters you read two or three times. You think it's a friend sending it as a joke. Because I'm a photographer, I enter photography competitions and I'm used to winning awards. But all the awards I have won I entered to win, but with this I had no idea.
"This is bigger than all of the other awards. It's an incredible shock but a very happy one."
Recipients of honours are not allowed to tell anyone until an embargo ends, meaning Alex has not been able to tell his mum until 10.30pm this evening (Friday, June 8).
He said: "I've been dying to tell my friends. Whenever I see a friend and they say 'anything exciting going on in your life', I say 'no no, nothing going on'."
Alex grew up in Devon but moved to Peterborough six years ago due to wife Eleonora Manca's work at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in Monkstone House.
His passion for photography started in childhood when he would snorkel off beaches in the UK, taking pictures which were "mostly bad" to begin with.
But he added: "Like most things, if you start young enough and dedicate enough to it you become an expert in it. It's been an amazing adventure and took me all around the world, let me meet interesting people and share my passion for the earth from everyone from kids to even the Queen."
The meeting with Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh took place at a gallery in Estonia 15 years ago where some of Alex's work was being featured, so the photographer was flown out by the organisers to introduce the monarch to the exhibition.
"She is an amazing woman. When you meet her, the power she has when she comes into the room - I have never experienced anything like it. The whole room goes silent," he said.
"She is very enthusiastic and puts you at ease. She was quite a keen photographer and was quite interested in how I get the photos."
Alex's work varies from sea animals big and small to highlighting threats to our oceans, including plastic pollution. His photographs have won awards on many occasions in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, and he is a four time category winner in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.
His books have won major awards, including the International Grand Prize for the best book of underwater photographs, and his photographs have been displayed in exhibitions around
the world. Moreover, in 2013 he was named GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, a first for an underwater photographer.
But nothing can top receiving an honour.
"The MBE is really the highlight of the awards I have won," he added.