From Skepta to David Bowie – the celebrities who turned down New Year’s Honours

The 2019 New Year’s Honours list has been revealed, with cultural figures including Sam Mendes, Olivia Newton John, Steve McQueen and Elton John among those acknowledged.

Given a knighthood in 1998, Sir Elton has been made a “Companion of Honour” – a special award only held by 65 people at any one time – for his achievements in music and extensive charity work.

Newton-John, the Grease star and health campaigner who moved from the UK to Australia with her family as a five-year-old, said she was “extremely excited, honoured and grateful beyond words” to be awarded a damehood.

However, there are always some who choose not to accept a prestigious title. A number of well-known individuals have refused an honour for a variety of reasons, whether political, personal, or because they did not feel it was appropriate given their line of work.

Here is a run-down of familiar faces who have spurned their New Year’s honour:


Skepta performing at the Governors Ball Music Festival, June 2017 (Getty)

Skepta claimed he had turned down an MBE for the 2017 New Year’s Honours via a new track, titled “Hypocrisy”. 

In the second verse of Hypocrisy, the grime artist raps: “Just came back from the Ivors/ And look at what we collected/ The MBE got rejected/I’m not trying to be accepted.”

Paul Weller

British rock icon Paul Weller turned down a CBE (Getty)

The musician rejected a CBE in 2006. In a statement a spokesperson for Weller simply said: “Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn’t really for him.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

(Getty Images)

The journalist and author said in 2006 she had been “stupid” to accept an MBE, which she later returned.

“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,” she wrote.

“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.”

Ken Loach


The film director, whose films focus on social issues such as poverty and homelessness, spoke about turning down an OBE in 1977.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Alan Bennett

Playwright and author Alan Bennett turned down the offer of becoming a CBE in 1988 and then rejected a knighthood in 1996.

He said the reason for doing so was because he did not believe that he could carry off being a knight: “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.”

Jim Broadbent


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

“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.”

Jon Snow

(Channel 4)

The Channel 4 News anchor who has a career spanning 40 years and reported on major events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela’s release from prison turned down an OBE on the grounds of being a journalist.

He said he believed journalists shouldn’t take honours from the government, explaining: “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,” reports the New York Times.

Benjamin Zephaniah

The celebrated poet turned down an OBE in 2003. Penning an article for the Guardian, he firmly asserted: “Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” Explaining he “gets angry” when hearing the word “empire” the poet also said it would have been better to give him “one of these empire things” for his work to combat racism or promoting animal rights rather than literature where “there are a whole lot of writers who are better than me.”

French and Saunders

The comedy duo turned down OBEs in 2001. Saunders later told Source magazine in 2008: “If I felt I deserved a Damehood I’d accept it.”

Looking back she said: “At the time, we felt that we were being paid very well to have a lot of fun. It didn’t seem right somehow… It felt a bit fake to stand alongside people who devoted their lives to truly worthy causes.”

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl in 1971 (Getty)

The beloved children’s author behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who died in 1990 reportedly refused a knighthood in 1986. His name was one of many revealed by the Telegraph after a Freedom of Information act in 2012.

David Bowie

The iconic performer spurned honours twice. He refused a CBE in 2000 and later a knighthood in 2003. The 68-year-old reportedly explained: “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.”

Nigella Lawson 

The TV chef was another name who was revealed to have turned down an OBE in 2001. She explained: “I’m not saving lives and I’m not doing anything other than something I absolutely love.”

Danny Boyle

The award-winning director was offered a knighthood following his successful Opening Ceremony routine at the London Olympics in 2012. He rejected “Sir Danny”, saying he’d rather be a “man of the people” and that he’s proud to be an “equal citizen” which was reflected in his Opening Ceremony.

Alfred Hitchcock

The Birds and Psycho director turned down a CBE in 1962 but later went on to accept a knighthood and was ‘Sir Alfred Hitchcock’ for only four months before his death in 1980. According to the Daily Mail, he originally refused the lesser title because it didn’t do justice to his contribution to British culture.

Francis Crick

The physicist who discovered DNA, along with James Watson, was offered a CBE in 1963 but declined, one year after they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He apparently believed the British monarchy to be “out of date”, reported the Mail.

Stephen Hawking

In 2008, the scientist told how he was offered a knighthood in the late 1990s but declined – reportedly over the UK government’s science funding.

John Lennon

The Beatle didn’t exactly turn his MBE down, but returned it four years after receiving the accolade.

In a letter to the Queen explaining his decision he listed Britain’s involvement in “the Nigeria-Biafra thing” (The Nigerian Civil War), the support of the USA’s war in Vietnam and “’Cold Turkey’ [by Plastic Ono Band] slipping down the charts”.

John Le Carre

The Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 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.


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