Getting knighted is nothing short of a great honor. Still, over time, there have been many famous people and celebrities who have turned down a knighthood. Obviously, each individual’s reason varies, but it’s surely interesting to see who these people were, and also know exactly why they did so.
“I’m very proud to be an equal citizen, and I think that’s what the opening ceremony was actually about.”
―Danny Boyle (while rejecting the knighthood offered to him for his contribution to the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony)
A knight will come in shining armor and be your savior. Isn’t that such a common thing that is said, be it in different contexts. But what we picture is a knight on horseback riding towards us, all dressed up in shining armor, ready to save the day.
Knighthood is a title that is bestowed upon someone as an honor for some extraordinary service. Originally, it was in a military capacity, more specific, a mounted warrior. This was around the 12th to the 15th century. Thereon, it became an honorary title more for non-military service. This being a title for men, women were honored with the equivalent title of ‘Dame’. In this day and age, a knighthood is conferred on a variety of individuals; celebrities, scientists, writers, artists, etc. While most would jump for joy at being offered one, there are quite a few who have actually refused a knighthood too. Surprising? Seems so! Here are some famous people who have turned down a knighthood, for their own reasons.
(1942 – )
Physicist, cosmologist, author
In today’s world, who does not know Stephen Hawking! Known for his outstanding work related to cosmology and quantum gravity, he suffers from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which has made him almost completely paralyzed. He refused to be honored as a knight in the last decade of the 20th century, saying that he was upset with the mismanagement of science funding by the government of UK.
(1947 – 2016)
Singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, artist
In 2003, David Bowie rejected knighthood. He sold more than 250 million albums worldwide, and was also voted as one of 100 Greatest Britons ever. Nevertheless, known for supporting leftist views, he refused to accept the title of ‘Sir’, saying “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”.
(1932 – 2013)
Actor, author, scholar
When we think of Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole automatically comes to mind. He holds the unfortunate distinction of having been nominated for the Oscars the most number of times (8), without ever winning one. He declined becoming a knight in 1987, citing personal and political reasons. But it was widely known how much he opposed the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
(1937 – )
Vanessa Redgrave has won everything―Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards. But in 1999, she turned down the title of ‘Dame’. Known for her sympathy to the left, she said that the Damehood only represented the British Empire, and her greatest honor is being a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.
(1956 – )
Director, producer, screenwriter
Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle turned down a knighthood in 2013. The honor was for his contribution as an artistic director for ‘Isles of Wonder’; opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. The only reason he gave was that, he wanted to be an equal citizen like everyone else, and that the 2012 ceremony was actually about that itself.
(1934 – )
Actor, author, screenwriter
Alan Bennett did it all―acting, writing, etc. This playwright’s plays were even made into films. However, in 1996, he refused a knighthood, saying “it would be a bit like having to wear a suit for the rest of my life”.
(1943 – )
English actor Malcolm McDowell has been acting for more than 50 years now, and is very well-known for his negative roles. Remember, he is the one whole kills Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. He was offered a knighthood in 1995, which he simply turned down.
(1861 – 1941)
Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913. All his works had both, political and personal angles to them. He was knighted in 1915, but renounced it four years later, when British troops massacred scores of Indians at Jallianwala Bagh, in Amritsar, India.
(1840 – 1928)
English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy was influenced by none other than William Wordsworth. But he was known to be against the whole honors system. As such, he turned down a knighthood in the first decade of the 20th century.
(1865 – 1936)
Writer, poet, journalist
Indian-born English writer Rudyard Kipling is probably best known for The Jungle Book. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. Not once, not twice, he rejected the knighthood thrice in the last decade of the 19th century, and never gave any reason for doing so.
(1791 – 1867)
Chemist and physicist Michael Faraday is known for discovering the electromagnetic field. The unit farad is named after him. Nevertheless, he pointed towards his religious beliefs, which rejected worldly recognition and riches, while declining a knighthood. He said “I prefer to remain plain Mr Faraday to the end”.
George Bernard Shaw
(1856 – 1950)
Playwright, critic, activist
George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have ever won a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award. Shaw was also the co-founder of the London School of Economics. He was known to be egoistic, but also disliked honors in general. Rejecting a knighthood, it is believed that his wife was the only reason he accepted the Nobel Prize.
(1908 – 1992)
Versatile English actor Robert Morley made his West End debut in 1929, and Broadway debut in 1938. Later, he took up movie projects too, but was still working on stage. He was to be honored with a knighthood in 1975, but politely turned it down for reasons only known to him.
(1936 – )
Actor Albert Finney has won BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Emmy Awards, besides being nominated for the Oscars. In the year 2000, he refused to be knighted, simply stating that it perpetuated snobbery. Take that!
(1922 – 2008)
Oscar winning Paul Scofield was famous for his distinctive voice and intense dialog delivery. He was looked at as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors ever. He refused to be knighted, not once, not twice, but three times.
(1913 – 1988)
Trevor Howard acted on stage, as well as in films and for television. He won a BAFTA award and was nominated for the Oscars once. His love for Test cricket was so much, that all his film contracts included a clause in them, which stated that he would be excused from work to allow him to watch an ongoing match. he is another actor who didn’t want to be called ‘Sir’.
(1900 – 1976)
Scottish actor Alastair Sim was a very popular West End performer, besides being an established actor in British films. However, he was never comfortable with being famous, which is why he refused a knighthood in the early 1970s.
(1929 – )
Along with Danny Boyle in 2013, the same year Peter Higgs also passed the chance to be called Sir. This physicist won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013. On his refusal regarding the knighthood, he stated that the system is used for political purposes by the government in power.
(1902 – 1984)
In 1933, Paul Dirac won the Nobel Peace Prize, making him the youngest winner ever, at 31. The Dirac equation is all about the movement of elementary fermion particles. Paul Dirac was known to be a very shy person, so much so that he used to disguise himself to escape the media. He refused knighthood because he didn’t want to be referred to by his first name.
(1887 – 1976)
It can be said that L.S. Lowry has rejected more honors than anyone else ever. So, it’s not just knighthood that he refused. He was well-known for depicting metropolitan scenes, for which he used only white, ivory, black, yellow ochre, and Prussian blue. He was extremely modest, and wanted to stick to his working class style. Not giving out much, he just said “I do not want to change my (current) situation”.
(1898 – 1986)
Artist Henry Moore was well-known for his bronze sculptures that are displayed at so many places around the world. He played a big part in the modern art movement. He came from a humble background; his father being a coal miner. He wanted to stick to his roots, and not be seen as someone from the establishment, which is why he turned down the title of ‘Sir’ in 1951.
(1856 – 1919)
Australia, as a nation, was formed in 1901, and Alfred Deakin was one of its founding fathers. He turned down the honor of a knighthood before that though, in 1887. While he was known to turn down other honors too due to his humble nature, another reason was that, he was in favor of Australia becoming a Republic, and not remaining under the British Crown.
(1866 – 1946)
Writer, teacher, historian, journalist
H.G. Wells was famous for his science-fiction novels. He was known to be very outspoken regarding his socialist views. No official reason was even known, but he too stayed away from becoming a sir.
(1894 – 1963)
It was no secret that Aldous Huxley believed in socialistic ideals. He was elected Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature, and was well-known as an intellectual. It was in 1959 when he was offered the title of knighthood, but refused.
(1919 – 2013)
British novelist Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. She was known to be a communist, who was always at loggerheads with the monarchy and political system in Great Britain. She rejected the title of Dame in 1993, saying “Surely, there is something unlikable about a person, when old, accepting honors from an institution she attacked when young?”
(1879 – 1970)
English novelist E.M. Forster is best known for his work ‘A Passage to India’ in 1924. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature a whopping 13 times. It is believed that he was homosexual, and wanted to keep that fact hidden, which is why he rejected knighthood in the year 1949.
The number of celebrities who have refused knighthood seems quite high. But as mentioned earlier, each person had his/her own reasons for doing so, and that we need to respect.