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Journalist and food critic Jay Rayner has scooped a couple of gongs in his time, including the 2001 Glennfiddich Restaurant Writer of the Year and Critic of the Year at the 2006 British Press Awards, among others.

Now he can add another piece of prestigious recognition to his name - Beard of the Year 2011.

The contest, run by socialist historian and beard enthusiast Keith Flett since 1995, names past winners as dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in 2010 and English cricketer Monty Panesar in 2006.

"A big thank you to all those who voted in the beard of the year award. My beard is thrilled. As am I," tweeted Rayner.

Flett runs the Beard Liberation Front (BLF), an "informal network of beard wearers" and "campaign group which opposes beardism, irrational prejudice against the hirsute", according to Flett's website.

Winners of Beard of the Year are deicided by votes cast by BLF members and the public on Twitter.

"Perhaps it is a revolt against a clean shaven political establishment, perhaps people can't afford to shave in these recessionary times," said Flett.

"Whatever it is, the record interest in Beard of the Year underlines that beards are set to be big in 2012."

Runners-up in the 2011 beard battle were actor Brian Blessed in second place and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in third.

Other nominees for the crown were brewer Evin O'Riordan and chocolatier Paul A. Young.

International Business Times UK looks back at some of the recent winners.