30 Celebrities Who Have Turned Down Monarch's Honours In The Past

It couldn't have been easy saying "no" to the late Queen Elizabeth II – but French and Saunders, Nigella Lawson and David Bowie all did it.

Hundreds of people are recognised every year in both the New Year’s and Monarch’s Birthday honours list, but not everyone was always eager to welcome the gesture from the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Danny Boyle, Jon Snow and Stephen Hawking are among the celebrities to have shunned the offer of being made a Knight, Dame, MBE, OBE or CBE. And they’re far from alone in doing so.

Here are 30 famous faces who rejected a gong...

1. Ken Loach

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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

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The director and master behind the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony revealed 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

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

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

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The renowned journalist has declined an offer of an OBE, reportedly 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

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Liverpool FC’s first black player turned down an MBE in 2016 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. Phil Scraton

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Hillsborough campaigner and academic Professor Phil Scraton rejected the offer of an OBE in the Queen’s 2016 New Year’s Honours list, citing how successive governments reneged “on any kind of support for the families in getting to the truth”.

Scraton has been widely praised for snubbing the honour, which he said would not be “fitting” for him to accept.

The academic said at the time: “I feel very strongly that for many years the successive governments refused to take seriously the issues that we raised in those early reports and in Hillsborough: The Truth.”

He added: “I think that many of the people who are involved in offering such honours have been part of that process and I feel very strongly that I could not accept an honour now that these issues have been resolved in the way in which they have.”

Scraton added: “These awards are made without recognising ties to an imperialist history or its legacy. I could not accept an honour tied in name to the ‘British Empire’. In my scholarship and teaching I remain a strong critic of the historical, cultural and political contexts of imperialism and their international legacy.”

7. Benjamin Zephaniah

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The poet made a public refusal to become 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.”

8. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

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The journalist and author described herself as having been “stupid” 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.”

9. Paul Weller

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The musician rejected a CBE in 2006.

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

10. French and Saunders

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Comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders declined to be made 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.”

11. George Harrison

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

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 received 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.”

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

12. Nigella Lawson

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In 2001, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson turned down the title of OBE. According to the BBC, she said: “I’m not saving lives and I’m not doing anything other than something I absolutely love.”

13. David Bowie

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The musician said no to becoming 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.”

14. Albert Finney

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Actor Albert Finney – a star of the 1960s who played Kincade in the Bond film Skyfall – turned down a CBE in 1980 and rejected a knighthood in 2000.

“I think the Sir thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery,” he is reported to have said at the time. Finney died in February 2019, aged 82.

15. Stephen Hawking

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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. Hawking died in March 2018 aged 76.

16. Alan Bennett

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Alan Bennett turned down the offer of becoming 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.”

17. John Cleese

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

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

18. Roald Dahl

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The children’s author, beloved by many for his books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Fantastic Mr Fox, refused an OBE in 1986.

19. JG Ballard


Novelist James Graham ‘JG’ 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

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

21. Audrey Callaghan

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Audrey Callaghan was the wife of Labour prime minister James Callaghan, who led the country between 1976 and 1979.

When Margaret Thatcher offered Audrey – a Labour councillor and a campaigner for children’s health and welfare – a damehood in 1979, she turned it down.

However, she became Lady Callaghan in 1987, when her husband was made Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.

22. John Lennon

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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, telling 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’ [his then current single with the Plastic Ono Band] slipping down the charts.”

23. John le Carre

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The late author was among a 2003 list of leaked names of those who declined an honour.

It is not clear what honour le Carre declined, or his reason for doing so.

24. Hughie Green

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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.

25. Rudyard Kipling

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The poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book, declined a knighthood.

His wife Caroline Balestier reportedly explained his decision by saying Kipling felt he could “do his work better without it”.

26. LS Lowry

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

27. Aldous Huxley

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The Brave New World author refused a knighthood in 1959.

28. Evelyn Waugh

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The Brideshead Revisited scribe snubbed a CBE in 1959.

29. 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.

30. Michael Sheen

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The Welsh actor gave back his OBE in 2017, after being awarded it in 2009 for his services to drama.

He chose to do so as he did not want to be a “hypocrite” when he aired his views about the monarchy in a Raymond Williams lecture.

Michael said that while researching the history of his native Wales and its relationship with the British state, he realised he could not both deliver his lecture and hold on to the honour.

“I didn’t mean any disrespect but I just realised I’d be a hypocrite if I said the things I was going to say in the lecture,” he said.

This article was originally published on December 29, 2017.


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