These days, knights aren’t expected to live in castles, fight dragons, or rescue maidens, but the list of celebrities who turned down knighthoods is still rather long. The famous people who refused to be knighted aren’t afraid of having to do battle - instead their reasoning for rejecting honors from the Queen are as varied as can be. Some chose to turn down the honor to make a principled stance, while others simply couldn’t be bothered. In most cases, the public only knows about the rejections due to a freedom of information request by the BBC in 2012.
The system by which the Queen of England honors and knights various people is quite complex. Although there are other paths to knighthood, the most well-known is the Order of the British Empire, an honor bestowed by the Queen to those deemed worthy. The Order has a number of tiers, with the two highest, Knight/Dame Grand Cross and Knight/Dame Commander, carry the distinction of knighthood and the title of “sir” or “dame.” The three lower tiers, Officer (OBE), Commander (CBE), and Member (MBE), are not officially made knights, but still represent a tremendous honor and have essentially become a sort of “British Hall of Fame.” However, it’s still quite a distinction, and thus a gutsy thing for a person to turn down.
Read on for a list of celebrities who decided knighthood wasn't for them.
Bill Nighy is an actor with a massive resume, but he’s probably best known to North America audiences as Billy Mack in Love Actually and Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Nighy turned down an OBE, but he has yet to reveal why he did so.110Surprising No 'Sir'-ree?
C.S. Lewis is an author best known for his sprawling fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and particularly its first book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Lewis rejected a CBE, but that fact was not discovered until long after his death. Some of his correspondence reveals that he felt the honor may be misunderstood in some way.80Surprising No 'Sir'-ree?
Jim Broadbent said he was offered an OBE sometime in the 2000s, but he didn't think it was right to accept it:
"I’m not that comfortable with actors receiving honors, 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."80Surprising No 'Sir'-ree?
Peter Capaldi has been active in the acting world since the ‘80s, but he reached worldwide fame with his turn as the twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who. Capaldi is shy to talk about it publicly, but he did turn down an OBE sometime in the 2010s. He simply said that, “I think it’s lovely that people get them but it’s not really my thing.”102Surprising No 'Sir'-ree?