Of all the honours that the Queen of England bestows on her subjects, a knighthood is definitely the most coveted. To Brits, few titles could be greater than having a “Sir” or “Dame” in front of their name. Even Michael Jackson applied for a knighthood once, but was turned down as he was not a British citizen. So what kind of person would turn down such a title? Surprisingly enough, many top tier celebrities have done so.
1. David Bowie
A few rock stars have been knighted, including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Sir Mick Jagger. David Bowie turned down a knighthood in 2003. “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. Henry Moore
The legend sculptor, a huge figure in the modern art movement, was always keen to remember his roots as the son of a coal miner. So, he turned down a knighthood in 1951 because he didn’t want to be seen as more important as as he thought he was. Humble, to say the least!
3. Rabindranath Tagore
One of India’s great spiritual men, the first man outside of Europe to win a Nobel Prize – for literature, in 1913. He was a poet, songwriter, novelist, painter, educator and much more. Tagore was offered a knighthood by King George V in 1915; and accepted it. However, he renounced his knighthood 4 years later in 1919, following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which hundreds of Indians – suspected of plotting an insurrection – were gunned down by British troops.
4. Vanessa Redgrave
The Oscar-winning actress is often considered one of the best of the British stage. But unlike Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren, Redgrave turned down the title in 1999. Known for supporting left wing and humanitarian causes, she might have thought that a knighthood would make her too much a part of the establishment.
5. Michael Faraday
Just to prove that turning down knighthoods isn’t just for rebels of the current times, Faraday (1791-1867), considered one of the greatest chemists & physicists to have lived – having discovered the electromagnetic field, also turned down a knighthood. Over a century later, fellow scientist Stephen Hawking, also reportedly said no to the Queen.
6. Robert Morley
The actor and playwright, (1908-1992) famous for playing a variety of rotund eccentrics, accepted an OBE in 1957, but turned down a knighthood in 1975.
7. L.S. Lowry
The artist, famous for paintings of the industrial scene, turned down more honours from the Queen than any other individual – a total of five! Including an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961 and a knighthood in 1968. Always a friend to the working class, he turned down the honours because, according to a friend, he did not want to “Change his situation.” Pictured below is Laurence Stephen Lowry overlooking the Stockport viaduct – fascinating how much this scene has now changed!
8. Alfred Deakin
The Australian statesman turned down a knighthood in 1887, when Australia was still a colony of Great Britain. He went on to become one of Australia’s founding fathers (becoming a nation in 1901) and serve as Prime Minister three times. Australia continued to award knighthoods (granted by the Crown) after winning independence from Britain. Though it has still not become a republic, Australia finally stopped awarding knighthoods in 1983.
9. Aldous Huxley
Aldous was an English writer, novelist, philosopher. The essayist and author (Brave New World) refused a knighthood in 1959, only four years before his death. Believe it or not, Huxley, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963 – fancy that!
10. Doris Lessing
When she was young, the Nobel Prize-winning author was an passionate communist, rebelling against the monarchy and the British political system. In 1993, at the age of 74, she refused the title. “Surely, there is something unlikable about a person, when old, accepting honours from an institution she attacked when young?” In 2000, however, she did accept a Companion of Honour (CH), preferring it because “You’re not called anything.”
11. John Lennon
While returning an MBE, Lennon spelled out his reasons in a letter to the Queen:
“Your Majesty, I am returning this 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.” See below: