Celebrities who have turned down honours from the Queen

·Contributor
·7-min read

Watch: Jonathan Pryce gets knighthood in Queen's Birthday Honours

Another crop of famous faces and other deserving Brits has been recognised this week as part of the Queen's Birthday Honours list. 

Among the most notable awards is a knighthood for Game of Thrones actor Jonathan Pryce and a damehood for The Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith. Dancer, choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips was also made a dame.

Read more: Explaining the different ranks of honours

There were also awards for singers Lulu, Engelbert Humperdinck and Alison Moyet, TV personality Robert Rinder, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and The Repair Shop presenter Jay Blades.

But not everyone has been thrilled to be offered an honour by the Queen. Here are some of the celebrities who have declined or returned their honours over the years...

David Bowie turned down a knighthood

David Bowie said no to a knighthood, despite his glittering career in the music business. (MediaNews Group/Contra Costa Times via Getty Images)
David Bowie said no to a knighthood, despite his glittering career in the music business. (MediaNews Group/Contra Costa Times via Getty Images)

David Bowie was, naturally, offered several honours for his work in the music business. He turned down a CBE in 2000 and also declined a knighthood three years later. 

In an interview with The Sun after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger was knighted in 2003, Bowie said: "I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that.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."

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders turned down OBEs

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders both turned down the opportunity to receive OBEs for their work in television comedy. (David M. Benett/Getty Images)
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders both turned down the opportunity to receive OBEs for their work in television comedy. (David M. Benett/Getty Images)

The comedy duo said no to OBEs in 2001, with Saunders later telling Source magazine that she would accept a damehood "if I felt I deserved" to receive one. She added: “At the time, we felt that we were being paid very well to have a lot of fun. It didn’t seem right somehow. We didn’t deserve a pat on the back. It felt a bit fake to stand alongside people who devoted their lives to truly worthy causes.”

Danny Boyle turned down a knighthood

Danny Boyle was offered a knighthood for his work at the helm of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. (Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Danny Boyle was offered a knighthood for his work at the helm of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. (Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, filmmaker Danny Boyle was offered a knighthood in the wake of the 2012 Olympics. The opening ceremony he put together — complete with a parachuting Queen — brought about a terrific moment of national unity. However, Boyle said he declined the honour because it's "just not me" and that accepting it would undermine the work of the dozens of others who were part of making the ceremony work.

George Harrison turned down an OBE

George Harrison accepted an MBE along with the other Beatles, but later turned down an OBE. (Icon and Image/Getty Images)
George Harrison accepted an MBE along with the other Beatles, but later turned down an OBE. (Icon and Image/Getty Images)

All four members of The Beatles were given MBEs at the peak of their powers in 1965, and all but one of them held on to the honours. More on that other one later.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have both been knighted in the years since, but George Harrison never received that honour. He was offered an OBE in the New Year's Honours list in 2000, but declined. Journalist Ray Connolly later said Harrison "would have felt insulted" at being offered an OBE, three years after McCartney was knighted.

Harrison passed away in 2001 and never received his knighthood.

John Lennon handed back an MBE

John Lennon received an MBE alongside his Beatles bandmates, but later handed it back. (Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
John Lennon received an MBE alongside his Beatles bandmates, but later handed it back. (Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Lennon received an MBE along with his bandmates in 1965, but handed it back prior to his murder in 1980. His anti-war politics during the 1960s led him to renounce the honour in 1969, penning a part-serious, part-flippant note to the Queen reading: "I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts."

He later wrote that he regretted the mention of his solo single Cold Turkey, feeling that it devalued the more serious side of his statement.

Nigella Lawson turned down an OBE

TV cook Nigella Lawson said no to an OBE in 2001. (David M. Benett/Getty Images)
TV cook Nigella Lawson said no to an OBE in 2001. (David M. Benett/Getty Images)

As arguably the UK's most famous TV chef, it was no surprise when Nigella Lawson was offered an OBE in 2001. She declined the honour, though, saying: "I'm not saving lives and I'm not doing anything other than something I absolutely love."

Jim Broadbent turned down an OBE

Jim Broadbent said that actors shouldn't receive honours from the Queen. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Jim Broadbent said that actors shouldn't receive honours from the Queen. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

After the beloved actor Jim Broadbent won an Oscar for his performance in the 2001 film Iris, he was offered an OBE. Broadbent turned it down, telling The Guardian in 2014: "I’ve been fairly selfish with everything I’ve done and I get enough prizes elsewhere and I didn’t think I deserved it, really."

He further stated that "actors should be anti-establishment, and I like the idea of being a rogue and a vagabond and not being appreciated by the powers that be". Understandably, that ethos is not really compatible with receiving a medal at a palace.

Michael Sheen handed back his OBE

Michael Sheen handed back his OBE after studying Welsh history. (Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic)
Michael Sheen handed back his OBE after studying Welsh history. (Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic)

Michael Sheen accepted an OBE in 2009, but revealed to journalist Owen Jones last year that he handed the prize back in 2017. He had been asked to give a lecture and, while preparing, delved into Welsh history that appeared, to him, incompatible with continuing to accept the honour. 

“I genuinely felt incredibly honoured when I was given it and it meant a lot to me and my family,” he said, adding that he would be a "hypocrite" if he held on to the title given "the nature of the relationship between Wales and the British state, and the history of it”.

Jon Snow turned down an OBE

Jon Snow said journalists shouldn't accept honours from those on whom they report. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jon Snow said journalists shouldn't accept honours from those on whom they report. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of Britain's most recognisable journalists and newsreaders, Jon Snow turned down an OBE in 2000 and has been an outspoken critic of the honours system in its current form, making a documentary called Secrets of the Honours System. He said he declined the award because he was a "working journalist" and, in an interview with the National Union of Students, added: "I don't think working hacks should take honours from the authorities they are charged with reporting".

Benjamin Zephaniah turned down an OBE

Benjamin Zephaniah cited anti-empire beliefs when he turned down his OBE. (Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)
Benjamin Zephaniah cited anti-empire beliefs when he turned down his OBE. (Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

The poet Benjamin Zephaniah took issue with the concept of the British Empire when he was offered an OBE in 2003. Writing in The Guardian, he explained: "I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'; it 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." He also wrote that honours "compromise writers and poets" and that he was shocked to see so many of his contemporaries accept them willingly.

Watch: Highlights of the Queen's Birthday Honours 2021

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