However, not everyone is keen to accept the honor that has been bestowed on them, either at New Year’s or for the Queen’s birthday.
Examples include David Bowie, John Lennon and — more recently — Michael Sheen, who revealed this week he returned his OBE in 2017.
On Wednesday, Helen Ewen, head of the Honours Secretariat at the Cabinet Office, said that the honors list will retain its name, but said that efforts had been made to make the list more inclusive, the PA Media news agency reported.
“There are no plans currently to make changes in this area — you’ve seen today that we’ve again seen a growth in the number of individuals in black and ethnic minority communities on this list, which we strongly welcome,” Ewen said.
“We are also doing a huge amount of work to build on the public nominations and to make sure that the nominations coming forward help us keep these lists representative of UK society in its widest form,” she added.
Who has rejected an honor?
“I didn’t mean any disrespect but I just realized I’d be a hypocrite if I said the things I was going to say in the lecture about the nature of the relationship between Wales and the British state,” he said.
George the Poet
Artist George the Poet said last year that he turned down an MBE because of the “pure evil” of the British Empire.
“I see myself as student, admirer and friend of Britain, however the colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa, entrenched across our geo-political and macro-economic realities, prevents me from accepting the title Member of the British Empire.”
John le Carré
Film director Ken Loach revealed he had turned 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 is reported as telling the Radio Times.
“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.”
Director Danny Boyle said he turned down a knighthood, adding “it’s just not me.”
John Lennon returned the MBE he was awarded alongside the three other Beatles in 1965 over British foreign policy.
“I began to be ashamed of being British,” Lennon said when discussing Britain’s involvement in the Biafra war.
Football player Howard Gayle turned down an MBE in 2016, calling it a “betrayal” to Africans who suffered or died at the hands of the British Empire.
The poet revealed he received an invitation from the Prime Minister’s office to receive the title of OBE — Order of the British Empire — but rejected it, writing: “I am profoundly anti-empire.”
Musician David Bowie turned down a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.
Writer JG Ballard turned down a CBE, saying that the award “goes with the whole system of hereditary privilege and rank, which should be swept away.”
Journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown accepted and then returned an MBE, writing that she was shamed by Zephaniah for her acceptance of the award.
“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 in 2009.
Actor Jim Broadbent is reported as saying that he turned down an OBE as prizes should be given to “those who really help others.”
He said he was “not that comfortable” with actors receiving honors, “partly because I think they ought to go to those who really help others,” he added.
The honors system, explained
The list of honors is published biannually, once at New Year’s and then again for the Queen’s birthday, and recognizes excellence in a spectrum of pursuits, ranging from arts and athletics to science and politics.
Although knights and dames may be the most well-known commendations, there’s a hierarchy of ranks in the honors system, according to the UK government.
At the highest level is the Companion of Honor, awarded to those who’ve made major contributions in the arts, science, medicine, or government over an extended period of time.
Next, the distinction of being a knight or dame is conferred on those who’ve made long-term national contributions seen as inspirational or significant.
The Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, is for those who’ve played a “prominent but lesser role at the national level, or a leading role at the regional level,” according to the UK government.
The Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, is for those who’ve taken a major role in local activities, and through that become known nationally in their chosen area.
The Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE, is for outstanding achievement or service to one’s community.
Finally, the British Empire Medal, or BEM, is for those who’ve done “hands-on” service for their local community, including voluntary activity or innovation work.