8 stars who turned down honours from the Queen, from David Bowie to George Harrison

30 December 2022, 14:13

Bowie and the Queen
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Twice a year, Buckingham Palace announces a long list of people honours of different types of importance to celebrate their life's work.

While being made a Sir or a Dame used to be an honour only bestowed to a small few, the list has widened every year to include people from all walks of life.

When it comes to celebrities, there are certain stars who we're very surprised to have never received anything. While it appears strange that the likes of George Michael or Freddie Mercury were overlooked, there are some that simply turned down the offer.

  1. 1. David Bowie

    David Bowie
    David Bowie. Picture: Getty

    David Bowie turned down two awards in fact: a CBE in 2000 and then a knighthood in 2003.

    "I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that," he told the Sun in 2003, the same year in which Mick Jagger was given his knighthood.

    "I seriously don't know what it's for. It's not what I spent my life working for. It's not my place to make a judgment on Jagger, it's his decision. But it's just not for me."

    When asked if he was "anti-monarchy", Bowie said: "I'd only have a serious answer to that if I was living in this country."

  2. 2. George Harrison

    George Harrison
    George. Picture: Getty

    The Beatles were all given MBEs in 1965, a move which didn't go down well with the establishment.

    In fact, John Lennon returned his in 1969, writing in a letter to the Queen: "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."

    George Harrison later rejected an OBE in 2000. We don't really blame him, as his former bandmate Paul McCartney had been knighted in 1997.

    Journalist Ray Connolly, who knew The Beatles well, told the Mail on Sunday: "Whoever it was who decided to offer him the OBE and not the knighthood was extraordinarily insensitive. George would have felt insulted - and with very good reason."

  3. 3. Paul Weller

    Paul Weller
    Paul Weller. Picture: Getty

    In 2007, former Jam frontman and all round top bloke Paul Weller revealed that he'd turned down a CBE.

    His spokeswoman later released a statement, saying simply: "Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn't really for him."

  4. 4. John Cleese

    John Cleese
    John Cleese. Picture: Getty

    The Monty Python actor turned down several offers from Her Majesty, including one of a peerage by the late Paddy Ashdown.

    He first rejected a CBE in 1996, calling them "silly", and three years later told Ashdown that staying in England in the winter was "too much of a price to pay" to sit in the Lords.

    He later told The Sunday Telegraph that it had been offered "not because I was such a wonderful human being, and because I'd helped them [Lib Dems] a lot".

  5. 5 and 6. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders

    French And Saunders
    French And Saunders. Picture: Getty

    The comedy legends both rejected OBEs for services to comedy drama back in 2001.

    Saunders said: "If I felt I deserved a Damehood I'd accept it.

    "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."

  6. 7. John Lydon

    John Lydon
    John Lydon. Picture: Getty

    It was quite surreal when famously-anti British establishment John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten was reportedly offered an MBE.

    A few decades before, he was part of the Sex Pistols when their song 'God Save the Queen' was released in the week of the Queen's silver jubilee (and some say the chart was rigged so that Rod Stewart stayed at number one...).

    Probably the right decision, John. It would have just been too awkward.

  7. 8. Alan Rickman

    Alan Rickman
    Alan Rickman. Picture: Getty

    The late, great Alan Rickman is said to have turned down a CBE during his career.

    However, he never made his reasoning public at the time.

    There has since been a posthumous campaign to get Rickman knighted, but so far there’s been no talk of it happening.