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New Year’s Honours List: 27 Celebrities Who Turned Down Their Honours

The list keeps on growing...

31/12/2016 09:31 | Updated 03 January 2017

Hundreds of people are recognised every year in the New Year’s Honours list, but not everyone is so eager to welcome the gesture from the Queen.

Danny Boyle, Jon Snow and Stephen Hawking are among the celebrities to have shunned the offer or an MBE, OBE or CBE. But they’re far from alone.

Here is a list of 27 famous faces who rejected a gong:

Lionel Cironneau/AP
Ken Loach.

The film director didn’t mince his words when he spoke about turning down an OBE in 1977.

Ken Loach, whose films centre on social issues such as poverty, homelessness and benefits, told the Radio Times in 2001: “It’s all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.

“I turned down the OBE because it’s not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it.”

2. Danny Boyle

Richard Shotwell/AP
Danny Boyle.

The director and master behind the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony revealed that he turned down an honour because: “It’s just not me”.

Danny Boyle said it did not feel right to accept the award when thousands of people were involved in the planning and execution of the highly-praised opening ceremony.

He told the Radio Times: “I also thought it was wrong, actually.

“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, and it is true, and it’s the only way you can carry on something like that: through the efforts of all the people.

“I don’t know whether I’ll ever get invited back to the Palace.”

3. Jim Broadbent

Grant Pollard/AP
Jim Broadbent.

Jim Broadbent said in 2012: “I was offered an OBE a couple of years ago, but I said, ‘no’, and turned it down.”

The actor said that the honour should be given to those who help others.

He said: “I’m not that comfortable with actors receiving honours, partly because I think they ought to go to those who really help others.

“Besides, I like the idea of actors not being part of the Establishment.

“We’re vagabonds and rogues, and we’re not a part of the authorities and Establishment, really. If you mix the two together, things get blurry.”

4. Jon Snow

Ian West/PA Archive
Jon Snow.

The renowned journalist has declined an offer of an OBE.  

Jon Snow reportedly said that he did so because he believed that working journalists should not take honours from those about whom they report.

He said: “I tried to find out why I’d been given it and was unable to get a clear answer or, indeed, to find out who had proposed me.”

5. Howard Gayle

PA/S&G and Barratts
Howard Gayle.

Liverpool FC’s first black player turned down an MBE this year saying that his “ancestors would be turning in their graves after how Empire and Colonialism had enslaved them”.

Howard Gayle was nominated for the honour for his campaign work with Show Racism the Red Card.

He wrote on his Facebook page: “This is a decision that I have had to make and there will be others who may feel different and would enjoy the attraction of being a Member of the British Empire and those 3 letters after their name, but I feel that It would be a betrayal to all of the Africans who have lost their lives, or who have suffered as a result of Empire.”

6. Benjamin Zephaniah

Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick
Benjamin Zephaniah.

The poet made a public refusal to collect an OBE in 2003.

Writing in the Guardian at the time, Benjamin Zephaniah explained why he refused to be appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

He wrote: “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought.

“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 added: “I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I’m certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people.

“Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” 

7. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 

Ben A. Pruchnie via Getty Images
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

The journalist and author has described herself as “stupid once” after she allowed herself to accept an MBE, which she later returned.

Alibhai-Brown said she partly accepted the honour to please her mother before returning it and she now speaks “with the zeal of a convert”.

The journalist wrote in 2006: “I was stupid once and allowed myself to accept an MBE, partly to please my mum, who was always afraid that my big mouth would get us deported from here, as we were from Uganda.

“Then the poet Benjamin Zephaniah shamed me live on Channel 4 news, just as the Iraq war was building up and my republicanism was solidifying.

“I returned the lovely object and have had to put up with scorn ever since, some deserved.

“But I now speak with the zeal of a convert. The Honours system sucks and we should start again, devise a fair and independent new method to annually acclaim exceptional citizens for their contribution to the nation, not to overweening political parties or the semi-skilled, dysfunctional Windsors.”

8. Paul Weller

Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick
Paul Weller.

The musician rejected a CBE in 2006.

In a statement a spokeswoman for Weller said: “Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn’t really for him.”

9. French and Saunders

Michael Crabtree/PA Archive
Dawn French (left) and Jennifer Saunders.

Comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders turned down OBEs “for services to comedy drama” in 2001. Saunders later revealed why they turned down the honour offered to them.

“If I felt I deserved a Damehood I’d accept it,” she told Source magazine.

“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.”

10. George Harrison 

Anonymous/AP
George Harrison.

In 2000 the former Beatle turned down an OBE after his band mate Paul McCartney was awarded a knighthood.

Every member of the Beatles was awarded an MBE in 1965, but Lennon returned his as a peace protest.

Documents revel that the Beatles guitarist was put forward for the honour due to his contribution to the music industry.

But journalist Ray Connolly, who knew The Beatles, said Harrison would have been insulted at such an offer after McCartney receieved a knighthood three years previously.

“Whoever it was who decided to offer him the OBE and not the knighthood was extraordinarily insensitive,” he said.

“George would have felt insulted – and with very good reason.”

11. Nigella Lawson

KEVIN WEINSTEIN/AP
Nigella Lawson.

In 2001, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson turned down an OBE. It is not known why she rejected the offer.

12. David Bowie

Stephen Chernin/AP
David Bowie.

The musician turned down an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours in 2000.
David Bowie suggested that he turned down the honour because he did not see the point in it.

He 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.”

Addressing fellow musician, Mick Jagger, accepting the honour, Bowie said: “It’s not my place to make a judgment on Jagger, it’s his decision. But it’s just not for me.”

13. Albert Finney

Michael Stephens/PA Archive
Albert Finney.

Actor Albert Finney turned down a CBE in 1980 and rejected a knighthood in 2000.

14. Stephen Hawking

Van Tine Dennis/ABACA USA
Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking revealed in 2008 that he had been approached with the offer of a knighthood in the late 1990s, but declined.

It has been reported that this is because of the UK government’s handling of science funding.

15. Alan Bennett

Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
Alan Bennett.

Alan Bennett turned down the offer of a CBE in 1988 and then rejected a knighthood in 1996.

The playwright and author said that the reason for doing so was because he did not believe that he could carry off being a knight.

He said: “I felt that, in my case, it just wouldn’t suit me, that’s all. It would be like wearing a suit every day of your life.”

16. John Cleese

Andy Kropa /Invision/AP
John Cleese.

The Monty Python star was offered a CBE in 1996 but refused because he thought they were “silly”.

John Cleese was offered a peerage by then Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown in 1999 because he felt that staying in England during the winter months was “too much of a price to pay”.

17. Roald Dahl

PA/PA Archive
Roald Dahl with his wife Patricia Neal.

The children’s author, beloved by many for his books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Fantastic Mr Fox, as well as being grandfather to model Sophie Dahl, refused an OBE in 1986.

18. JG Ballard

Barry Lewis via Getty Images
JG Ballard.

Novelist James Graham ‘J G’ Ballard explained in 2003 why he rejected a CBE, which he was put forward for to recognise his services to literature.

Ballard, a self-proclaimed republican said he could not accept an honour awarded by the monarch.

“There’s all that bowing and scraping and mummery at the palace.

“It’s the whole climate of deference to the monarch and everything else it represents.

“They just seem to perpetuate the image of Britain as too much pomp and not enough circumstance. It’s a huge pantomime where tinsel takes the place of substance.

“A lot of these medals are orders of the British Empire, which is a bit ludicrous.

“The dreams of empire were only swept away relatively recently, in the 60s. Suddenly, we seem to have a prime minister who has delusions of a similar kind.

“It goes with the whole system of hereditary privilege and rank, which should be swept away.

“It uses snobbery and social self-consciousness to guarantee the loyalty of large numbers of citizens who should feel their loyalty is to fellow citizens and the nation as a whole. We are a deeply class-divided society.”

20. Ian McDiarmid

ERIC RISBERG/AP
Ian McDiarmid.

The actor and director, perhaps best known for his role as Palpatine in the Star Wars film series, has turned down an OBE. It is not clear why he declined the honour.

21. Audrey Callaghan

PA Archive
Audrey Callaghan (right) and the American ambassador to London, Anne Armstrong.

In 1979 - shortly after her husband James led the Labour Party into the start of an eighteen-year period out of office - Audrey Callaghan refused a Damehood from Margaret Thatcher.

22. John Lennon

AP
John Lennon.

John Lennon is one of the few honours recipients to send his back, returning his MBE in 1969 in protest against Britain’s foreign policy. 

He reportedly wrote to the Queen, informing her: “Your Majesty, 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.”

23. Hughie Green

PA/PA Archive
Hughie Green.

The Opportunity Knocks presenter snubbed an OBE in 1960, at a time when he was reaching new heights in his entertainment career as the host of “Double Your Money”.

24. LS Lowry

Toby Melville/PA Archive
LS Lowry paintings.

Between 1955 and 1976 the painter turned down honours five times: an OBE, a CBE, a knighthood and Companion of Honour (twice).

25. Aldous Huxley

AP
Aldous Huxley.

The Brave New World author refused a knighthood in 1959.

26. Evelyn Waugh 

AP
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh.

The Brideshead Revisited scribe snubbed a CBE in 1959.

27. CS Lewis

PA
CS Lewis.

The creator of the Chronicles of Narnia series of books declined a CBE in 1952.

CS Lewis reportedly rejected the honour so as to avoid association with any political issues. 

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