OLYMPIC hero Tom James has talked of his surprise and pride at being made an MBE in the New Year Honours list.

The former Chester King’s School pupil has been recognised for his summer achievements in Beijing, where he rowed to gold medal glory for Great Britain in the men’s coxless fours.

James, who is held “in awe” by pupils at his old school, is thrilled by his latest honour.

He said: “It is a very different feeling to anything else. With the Olympics or the World Championships, you train for it hard. When you win, it is simply what you have been aiming for – but you can never expect something like this.

“While we were in Beijing we had no idea of the impact of the Games over here and we came back to a storm.

“But now the fuss has died down and things are getting back to normal. It is nice that your achievement is still remembered and recognised in the wider world outside rowing.”

James, 24, is one of a host of athletes honoured for their part in Britain’s best performance at an Olympics since 1908. The Cambridge University graduate, who now lives in London, began his rowing career on the River Dee a decade ago and was captain of the King’s School Rowing Club’s eight in 2000.

“My dad is also a rower and I think he was extremely pleased,” said James, whose parents Mike and Julia live in Coedpoeth, near Wrexham. “To find out his son has been honoured in the year he won a gold medal, he has really enjoyed that.”

James is seen as an inspiration by pupils at his old school, where teachers and rowing coaches have watched his progress with pride.

Neville Orme, who was James’ rowing coach at King’s, said: “You could see it in him from the age of about 14 or 15.

“He had potential and talent, and not just run-of-the-mill stuff, something special.

“I, the school, his friends and parents, everyone, is extremely proud of him and this award just adds to that.”

James retains strong links to the school, and Neville enjoys seeing the rower idolised by today’s pupils.

He said: “Tom was in about three weeks ago. All the 14-year-olds wanted his autograph and were in awe of him.

“He sets a good example and shows that with the right facilities, which we have at the school, and hard work you can achieve great things.”

James, who missed out on a medal with the men’s eight at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, is currently taking a well-earned rest from rowing. Once he has fully recuperated from his Beijing exploits, he will return to the sport – and he already has one eye on the 2012 Olympics in London.

“The competition will be greater than ever,” he said. “But by then the competitive juices will be in full flow again and hopefully I will be able to get into the team.”