The stars who snubbed British honours

·8 min read
Honor Blackman, Jim Broadbent and David Bowie are among those to have turned down honours. (NILS MEILVANG/AFP via Getty Images. Rosie Greenway/Getty Images. David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage.)
Honor Blackman, Jim Broadbent and David Bowie are among those to have turned down honours. (NILS MEILVANG/AFP via Getty Images. Rosie Greenway/Getty Images. David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage.)

For some, receiving an honour from the Queen might be the pinnacle of their career and an important marker of their achievements, but others just really aren't all that fussed.

There's even been an upturn in those turning down the Royal accolades, as The Guardian noted in November that refusals have more than doubled over the past nine years.

It came as activist Gina Martin, who successfully campaigned for upskirting to be made illegal, publicly rejected an OBE citing the “violence and oppression” of the British empire as the reason behind her decision.

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Over the years some very prominent figures have turned down the chance of an honour, typically due either to their stance on the monarchy or because they don’t see the point in getting one.

Here are some of the most famous rejectors of a Royal honour.

John Cleese

John Cleese during a book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly to promote his book "Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide" on September 10, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
John Cleese during a book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly to promote his book "Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide" on September 10, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

In 1999 comedy legend Cleese was offered a Life Peerage, and a seat in the House Of Lords, for his services to The Liberal Democrats.

However the Monty Python star declined the honour, and the bonus title of “Baron”, telling the Sunday Telegraph in 2011: “I realised this would involve being in England in the winter and I thought that was too much of a price to pay.”

Well, it’s as good a reason as any. Cleese had previously turned down a CBE in 1996, stating “I think they’re silly.”

Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle attends a photocall for the Scottish Premiere of 'Yesterday' during the 73rd Edinburgh International Film Festival at Vue Omni Cinema on June 20, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)
Danny Boyle attends a photocall for the Scottish Premiere of 'Yesterday' during the 73rd Edinburgh International Film Festival at Vue Omni Cinema on June 20, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

The Trainspotting director was offered a knighthood for masterminding the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, but he turned it down.

“It’s just not me,” Boyle admitted in 2013, “I thought it was wrong, actually.”

The 64-year-old would-be Sir didn’t want to be seen to take full credit for the event: “You can make these speeches about ‘this is everybody’s work, blah blah blah’. And you’ve got to mean it, and I did mean it.”

David Bowie

David Bowie during David Bowie in Concert - October 14, 2007 at Capital Theater in Port Chester, New York, United States. (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
David Bowie during David Bowie in Concert - October 14, 2007 at Capital Theater in Port Chester, New York, United States. (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)

David Bowie said no to an honour twice in his lifetime, once in 2000 for a CBE and a second time in 2003 when he was to be given a knighthood.

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But he said he had no judgement on those who did choose to accept, including Mick Jagger who was knighted in 2003.

"I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that," he told the Sun.

"I seriously don't know what it's for. It's not what I spent my life working for. It's not my place to make a judgment on Jagger, it's his decision. But it's just not for me."

Albert Finney

British actor Albert Finney at the Deauville Festival of American Film in France. (Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
British actor Albert Finney at the Deauville Festival of American Film in France. (Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Late acting veteran Finney, who starred in the last Bond effort Skyfall, declined a CBE in 1980, and a knighthood in 2000.

In a scathing attack on the honours system, Bourne and Big Fish star Finney described the idea of knighting people as a disease, adding that it “perpetuates snobbery.”

Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds perform on stage during Day 4 of the Womad Festival at Charlton Park on July 30, 2017 in Wiltshire, England.  (Photo by C Brandon/Redferns)
Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds perform on stage during Day 4 of the Womad Festival at Charlton Park on July 30, 2017 in Wiltshire, England. (Photo by C Brandon/Redferns)

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejected an OBE in 2003 in protest at British government policies and the British Empire.

Writing in the Guardian, he said the word 'empire' “reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised."

The writer described himself as "profoundly anti-empire".

Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent attends the World Premiere of 'King Of Thieves' at Vue West End on September 12, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Jim Broadbent attends the World Premiere of 'King Of Thieves' at Vue West End on September 12, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Ever loveable Jim turned down an OBE in 2002, humbly stating that he wasn’t comfortable with actors receiving Royal recognition.

“I think [honours] ought to go to those who really help others,” he told the Telegraph. “Besides, I like the idea of actors not being part of the Establishment. We’re vagabonds and rogues.”

Broadbent then went on to take issue with the system’s subtext, saying: “I don’t think the British Empire is something that I particularly want to celebrate.”

Paul Weller

Paul Weller performs live during the Summer Series at Trinity College Dublin. (Photo by Ben Ryan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Paul Weller performs live during the Summer Series at Trinity College Dublin. (Photo by Ben Ryan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Jam and Style Council singer Paul Weller rejected a CBE back in 2006.

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A statement from his spokesperson at the time simply read: "Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn't really for him."

Michael Winner

Film director Michael Winner arrives for the premiere of 'The Expendables,' on Monday night, August 9, 2010, at the Odeon, Leicester Square in London. (Photo by Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images)
Film director Michael Winner arrives for the premiere of 'The Expendables,' on Monday night, August 9, 2010, at the Odeon, Leicester Square in London. (Photo by Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 2006 it emerged cult director Winner had been offered an OBE for his dedicated campaigning for the Police Memorial Trust, and not his once controversial movies.

Winner declined, telling the Sunday Times: “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross Station.”

Ever the charmer, Winner then mocked the “rubbish” who accepted honours: “When you look at the absolute non-service they have given to the nation other than financing or working for political parties, you say, ‘What company am I in?’ Adding: “At least if you go straight to the House of Lords you can wear fancy dress and have a giggle.”

Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman poses for a photograph whilst recording her single 'The Star Who Fell From Grace' at Angel Studios on May 15, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Rosie Greenway/Getty Images)
Honor Blackman poses for a photograph whilst recording her single 'The Star Who Fell From Grace' at Angel Studios on May 15, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Rosie Greenway/Getty Images)

There was more to Blackman than Pussy Galore. Prior to her death in 2020, the iconic Bond girl was a vocal supporter of Republic, the campaign for an elected head of state in the UK – so it’s hardly surprising that she turned down a CBE from her never-to-be-best-mate monarch in 2002.

Blackman also publicly criticised fellow Bond star Sir Sean Connery, who also died this year, for his tax evading habits. “I don’t think you should accept a title from a country and then pay absolutely no tax towards it,” she said in 2012, “I don’t think his principles are very high.”

George Harrison

George Harrison with Julian Lennon behind, at The Beatles' induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
George Harrison with Julian Lennon behind, at The Beatles' induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

George Harrison turned down an OBE in 2000, although had previously accepted an MBE along with the rest of The Beatles in 1965.

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It might've come as a kick in the teeth for poor Harrison as Paul McCartney had already been knighted in 1997, although he never publicly commented on it in his lifetime.

Ken Loach

Ken Loach attends 'Sorry We Missed You'  photocall during 67th San Sebastian International Film Festival on September 25, 2019 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Carlos R. Alvarez/WireImage)
Ken Loach attends 'Sorry We Missed You' photocall during 67th San Sebastian International Film Festival on September 25, 2019 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Carlos R. Alvarez/WireImage)

Literally the least likely person to accept a Royal honour, it’s surprising outspoken socialist Loach was ever offered one in the first place.

The proudly left-wing director turned down an OBE in 1997, later explaining his reasons in a 2001 interview. “It’s all the things I think are despicable,” he told the Radio Times, “Patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.”

Loach cheerfully described the honour as “not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it”.

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone of United Kingdom during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Men's Super G on January 24, 2020 in Kitzbuehel, Austria. (Photo by Klaus Pressberger/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)
Bernie Ecclestone of United Kingdom during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Men's Super G on January 24, 2020 in Kitzbuehel, Austria. (Photo by Klaus Pressberger/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

Bernie Ecclestone reportedly turned down a CBE in 1996, according to The Guardian.

The Formula One boss didn't reckon he'd done anything to get the recognition.

He told F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast: “Really because I don’t think doing things that I’ve done deserve any acknowledgement from anyone.

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“All the things I’ve done, I didn’t set off to do something good for the country.

“If, by chance, it happened, I did do something good for the country, good. But it wasn’t my intention.”

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