No Ma'am! Celebrities Who Turned Down Honors from Queen Elizabeth
From John Lennon to John Oliver, famous faces have their reasons for declining royal awards
After receiving a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2009 for services to drama, the Welsh actor quietly handed back the award in 2017 after looking into the history of the relationship between England and Wales for a lecture.
"By the time I had finished writing that lecture...I remember sitting there going, 'Well, I have a choice — I either don't give this lecture and hold on to my OBE, or I give this lecture and I have to give my OBE back,' " Sheen said in a conversation with The Guardian columnist Owen Jones in 2020.
All four of The Beatles were all made Members of the British Empire (MBE) in 1965, but Lennon returned his honor four years later.
"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," he wrote in a letter.
Another member of The Beatles rejected being made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000 — three years after bandmate Paul McCartney was knighted.
David Bowie turned down two awards: a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.
"I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that," he told the Sun in 2003, the same year Mick Jagger was given a 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."
The famous film director rejected a knighthood in 2013, telling Radio Times, "It's just not me."
The musician rejected a CBE in 2006. "Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn’t really for him," his spokesperson said in a statement.
The comic actor declined appointment as CBE in 1996 as well as a life peerage position in 1999.
"Why on earth would I want that?" the host and comic said on Conan O'Brien's podcast in 2019. "Then I looked up all the people who rejected it. I think the Beatles gave it back in the end."
The British filmmaker rejected an OBE offered to him "because it's not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who've got it," he told the BBC in 2001.
Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders
The comedy duo turned down OBEs, offered to them in 2001.
"If I felt I deserved a Damehood, I'd accept it," Saunder told Source magazine. "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."
The late actor turned down a CBE, though he never publicized his reason for the decision.
The Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon — A.K.A. Johnny Rotten — told NPR in 2015: "Oh, they're trying to give me an O.B.E. or an M.B.E. or whatever that is. Nope, not interested."
The British novelist — known for popular children's books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda — refused to be decorated as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)...reportedly because he wanted to be knighted.
While the actress accepted a CBE in 1967, she declined Damehood in 1999.
The author of The Chronicles of Narnia declined a CBE he was to have been awarded in 1952.
I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable,” he wrote in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1951. However, he felt many believed that Christianity is "covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there."