10 Famous People Who Turned Down Knighthoods
Being knighted by the monarch of the United Kingdom is supposed to be a huge honor. They are generally only awarded to figures who have made a significant contribution to their chosen field or to society as a whole. Such people will be invited to attend a lavish ceremony where they will be knighted by the monarch or one of her heirs and be entitled to proceed their name with either “Sir” or “Dame”. Not every person who is offered a knighthood accepts the honor though, with many turning them down for political and moral reasons.
One of the most celebrated of all British artists, the painter LS Lowry rose to fame for his work that showed off the Manchester and Lancashire areas of the United Kingdom. His working class background meant that he was uninterested in honors from the government and the monarchy, leading to him turning down an OBE, CBE, knighthood and the Companion of Honor.
John Cleese made his name as one of the greatest comedians in the world. He first made his name as part of the Monty Python group, which brought us films such as the Life of Brian, and later as Basil Faulty in Faulty Towers. For services to entertainment and British film he was offered the chance to become a Lord through a life peerage and to become a knight of the realm. However, he refused both saying that the honors were “silly.”
Michael Faraday is one of the most famous scientists to come out of the United Kingdom. Known for his work in chemistry and physics, he was instrumental in determining an understanding of electricity and discovered the electromagnetic field. Faraday turned down a number of honors and awards in his later career, preferring to remain as normal as possible.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest actresses in the world, Vanessa Redgrave has been lauded by critics and her colleagues for decades. During that time she has received a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Tony and even an Oscar. She turned down a knighthood as she believed it would detract from her role as a goodwill ambassador for Unicef, something that she feels is far more important in her life.
Roald Dahl is one of the best loved and most successful children’s authors of all time. Not only did he contribute immensely to literature he also fought in World War II as a fighter pilot. Like many other authors from the past few decades, Dahl turned down a number of honors from the Queen, though it is unclear exactly why he did so.
As one of the most established British actors in the world, who has been nominated for academy awards and appeared in hit films, Kenneth Branagh was always likely to be invited to Buckingham Palace for services to the film industry. He turned the offer down in 1994 believing that he had not yet accomplished enough to warrant the award.
Despite his huge influence on the music industry and popular culture around the world, John Lennon never received a knighthood or any other honors from the British government. That isn’t for lack of trying though as he was offered several in his life. He turned them down in protest, saying in a letter: “Your Majesty, I am returning this MBE in 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.”
Alan Bennett made a name for himself around the world thanks to his exceptional plays as well as his work as a screenwriter, author and actor. While he has always been supportive of charities and thankful to Great Britain for the opportunities it gave him while growing up, he didn’t want to accept a CBE or a knighthood, though he didn’t give a reason for doing so.
Although Stephen Hawking has never been afraid to accept rewards and honors for his contributions to science, such as a Presidential Medal of Freedom, he has turned down a knighthood in protest of the actions of the British government. He has been highly critical of the honors system in the UK and of how much funding is given to academics and science in the country and felt that he couldn’t accept a knighthood while these problems persisted.
Rock stars are a common type of people who refuse honors such as knighthoods and David Bowie carried on the tradition in 2003. He explained that he would never have accepted such an award and that he didn’t understood why anyone would want one when they didn’t really mean anything.