History | Royals | Celebrity | Did You Know

10 Celebrities Who Were Offered The Queen's Honors, And Turned It Down

NY Post / BBC

Twice a year, the British government drafts up a list of individuals whose contributions to British culture, well-being, or national strength are, in their opinion, worth an acknowledgement by Her Majesty herself.

The Queen then reviews and confirms the list, and announces the awards twice a year: once just prior to New Year's Day, and once on her birthday in June.

Understandably, to a lot of British citizens, the idea of receiving a Queen's Honor is just about the pinnacle of recognition, and a number of big names have eagerly stepped up to the plate in order to be dubbed a Knight or Dame of the British Empire.

Most recently, musicians like Ringo Starr of The Beatles and Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees were given the honor, alongside actors like Hugh Laurie and Patrick Stewart.

Ringo Starr being Knighted by Prince William
Ultimate Classic Rock

Starr revealed just how much it meant to him to finally have the royal family formally acknowledge his contributions to music and British culture.

"It means a lot actually," the musician told the BBC. "It means recognition for the things we've done. I was really pleased to accept this."

This honor comes over 50 years after Starr and his former band mates received their MBEs, an occasion that was met with controversy.

John Lennon later returned his medal in protest, and attached a note that read:

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.

With love. John Lennon of Bag

There was a massive public outcry that followed Lennon's decision, however, he wasn't the first to do so. He would also not be the last.

It may come as a surprise that not everybody who's offered an Honor by the crown actually accepts it! In fact, there have been a number of big names who've turned it down over the years, much to the shock of the entire country.

Read on to find out which celebs turned down knighthood...

1. David Bowie

The Independent

The legendary rock star turned down both the honor of becoming a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000, and a knighthood in 2003.

When asked about his reasoning, he simply said that "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."

2. Stephen Hawking

The Times

A pioneer in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology, Hawking didn't even let a rare form of early-onset ALS prevent him from becoming one of the defining minds of our time.

The crown offered him a knighthood, but he declined due the fact that he, in his own words, "dislikes the whole concept."

3. George Harrison

George Harrison

Lennon wasn't the only Beatle who said "no" to Her Majesty. In 2000, Harrison refused to accept an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) honor after his former band mate Paul McCartney was awarded a knighthood.

Unlike Lennon, Harrison never had an issue with the establishment because he kept his MBE from 1965, but according to journalist Ray Connolly, "George would have felt insulted – and with very good reason."

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

4. Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle at the 'Trust' premiere

The celebrated director known for his exceptional work on films like Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire, was also the mastermind behind the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

The Queen was so impressed with Boyle's work that she included him in the New Year Honors that year, but to everyone's surprise, he turned it down, saying "It's just not me."

“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."

5. John Cleese

The Sun

One of the funniest and most prolific comedians the UK has ever produced, Cleese rose to fame thanks to his involvement with the Monty Python comedy group, as well as a string of successful shows and movies like Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, and Fierce Creatures.

The government offered him a life peerage back in 1999, but Cleese declined, hilariously quipping that he "realized this involved being in England in the winter and I thought that was too much of a price to pay."

There are many more who turned down a royal Honor, including a very popular celebrity chef.

6. Nigella Lawson

Lawson propelled to international fame by writing best-selling cookbooks and landing her own cooking show series, Nigella Bites in 1999. A few years later, she began hosting Food Network's Nigella Feasts, and she has not slowed down since.

Now, she owns a multi-million dollar cookware line, published several more books, has a TV show currently on the air, and is a guest judge on season 8 of MasterChef Australia.

One thing Lawson does not have is an OBE, and that's by choice. The celebrity chef was offered the honor in 2001, but the leaked Whitehall documents in 2003 revealed that she declined it.

To this day, Lawson, whose father is a life peer, has not publicly addressed her decision.

7. Sir Winston Churchill


All exiting Prime Ministers of England are offered a royal peerage upon leaving office, essentially setting them up for early retirement by the crown.

Churchill, never one to take the easy way on anything, declined so he could remain in the House of Commons, where he used his influence to get his son, Randolph Churchill, a political career.

8. Vanessa Redgrave

The Independent

Called the "greatest living actress of our time" by both Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, Redgrave was genuine Hollywood royalty. In fact, she's currently the only British actress to receive the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

But when she was offered the title of Dame in 1999, she turned it down due to her distaste for the government's political stances on humanitarian efforts.

9. Roald Dahl

When you're the author of beloved children's books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantatsic Mr. Fox, there's a good chance that the Queen loves your work too.

Dahl was offered an OBE in 1986, but he had no interest in it. According to reports, the real reason he turned it down was because actually wanted a knighthood.

C.S. Lewis, best known for his classic children's series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is another author who was included in the Honour list for a CBE in 1952. However, given the political climate at the time, Lewis, a Christian apologist, declined.

10. Alfred Hitchcock

Arguably the most influential film director and producer in modern cinema, Hitchcock certainly deserved the honor of being named a CBE, but the Master of Suspense turned it down in 1962.

He felt that the title "did not do justice to his contribution to British culture." It may have seemed outrageous to some, but come to think of it, a CBE doesn't even come with the honorific prefix "Sir," so can we really blame Hitchcock for not settling?

Once you turn down such an honor, I doubt the Queen will ever bat an eyelash at you, but she made an exception for Hitchcock.  Her Majesty made him a Knight of the British Realm during the New Year's Honors in 1979. Unfortunately, he died just four months later.  

Who are you most surprised turned down honors from the Queen?

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.