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New Year Honours: From David Bowie to Stephen Hawking, the people who have declined titles

Published 31/12/2015

David Bowie: I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that
David Bowie: I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that
One of the pictures shows Alfred Hitchcock on the Coronation Street set
John Lennon in 1971

The New Year Honours list for 2016 has been announced, a day before the new year begins.

Among those to receive new titles are AP McCoy, who receives a knighthood, Barabara Windsor who is to be made a Dame, actress Imelda Staunton who has been promoted to CBE, as well as Idris Elba, David Oyelowo and James Nesbitt who will receive OBEs.

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The list is not without controversy as almost 30 Tory party members or supporters are being honoured, including the man behind the party’s 2015 General Election victory Lynton Crosby who will be knighted.

The knighthood of Crosby along with Henry Bellingham MP and  the CBE appointment of Jacqueline Gold, the chief executive of Ann Summers and Tory donor, has led to the re-ignition of the ‘cronyism’ row surrounding the honours system.

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However, amid the furore, not everyone chooses to accept a prestigious title. Some well-known individuals have refused an honour for a variety of reasons, sometimes political and sometimes because they don’t feel it was appropriate to their work.

Here is a run-down of notable familiar faces who have spurned their New Year honour.

Jon Snow

The renowned 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 believed journalists shouldn’t take honours from the government and said: “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

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 has 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,” reports Music News.

Nigella Lawson

The television 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 who tragically died aged 40 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 slipping down the charts”.

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