Every year, Queen Elizabeth II awards knighthoods to certain individuals, which allows them to use the title “Sir” or “Dame” (for women) before their names. Modern knights have no actual responsibilities — fighting crusades, seizing castles, or jousting, for instance. The title merely conveys status and bragging rights.
So how does one join the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire? It helps if you become a successful musician and do some highly visible charity work. Hip gyrations and a bad-boy image don’t seem to hurt, either. Here are some music stars who have been knighted by the Queen.
10. Close to Knighthood, But Not Quite. . .
Many musicians have been given a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), the highest honor a British subject can receive below a knight or dame. Among them are: Annie Lenox, Roger Daltry, The Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Sting, and Robert Plant. But the league of knighted music stars is far more exclusive.
9. Sir Cliff Richard
Cliff Richard was the first rock star to receive a knighthood in 1995, for services to music and charity. His biggest hits in the United States include Devil Woman and We Don’t Talk Anymore. In 1996 Britain’s pop darling made headlines entertaining a crowd of soggy tennis fans at a rained out Wimbledon match.
8. Dame Shirley Bassey
Welsh singer Shirley Bassey was made a Dame Commander of the British Order (DBE) in 1999, in recognition of her long and outstanding music career. Americans of Welsh heritage, the “older” generation, and James Bond fans, probably remember the talented Cardiff singer, best known for the Bond film theme songs, Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker.
7. David Bowie
David Bowie allegedly declined a knighthood in 2003, and before that had refused a CBE. When questioned about his decision Bowie reportedly said it wasn’t what he spent his life working for. David Bowie is therefore the ultimate rebel, unimpressed by nobility and fancy titles.
6. Sir Tom Jones
Welsh singing sensation Tom Jones was knighted in 2006 for services to music. Sir Tom, who has been performing for over 40 years, is well known for his tight pants and hip gyrations, not to mention being showered onstage by ladies undergarments. The self-proclaimed royalist and coal miner’s son claimed in an interview that Queen Elizabeth told him he’d given a lot of people a “lot of pleasure.” The ladies would certainly agree, Liz.
5. Bob Geldof, KBE
Bob Geldof, formerly of The Boomtown Rats, earned an honorary knighthood in 1986 for his work on famine relief. This came a year after the enormously successful Live Aid concerts. Since Geldof is Irish, and not a citizen of a British Commonwealth country, he cannot use the title “Sir.” Instead he is allowed to add the letters KBE (Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire) after his name. Either way, fans still call him “Sir Bob.” Geldof has received a mixture of praise and criticism for his very visible activism. At the 2006 NME Awards, “Sir” Bob referred to the host as a “c**t.” Rather uncouth words for a knight needless to say, but then standards have changed since the Middle Ages.
4. Bono, KBE
In 2007 Irish rock star Bono, lead singer of U2, received an honorary knighthood for his humanitarian work and contribution to music. Again, because he’s Irish, Bono can’t be called Sir, which is rather a blessing as “Sir Bono” sounds ridiculous. Alternating from rock rebel, to Christian, to world savior, Bono, born Paul David Hewson, is famous for the politically motivated songs Sunday, Bloody Sunday, about a British army massacre of Irish civil rights protesters, and Pride, his tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. Bono has since toned down the politics, concentrating more on philanthropic works. Although he loves asking people to part with their hard-earned cash, he has apparently never disclosed his own donation habits. He campaigns for third-world debt relief and tries to convince governments to donate more tax money to end poverty. Yet the multi-millionaire activist was criticized in 2006 (prior to his knighthood) for moving his business out of Ireland to avoid paying extra taxes. Hardly chivalrous behavior for a knight-to-be, Mr. Bono.
3. Sir Elton John
Elton John was knighted for his services to music and charity in 1998. He’s possibly the first widely known “alternative lifestyle” knight. The pop star has worked hard for AIDS charities since the 1980s, and a successful four-decade career has earned him a prestigious collection of accolades, including an Oscar, six Grammys and a Golden Globe. It was no surprise when John was included in the honors list. His tribute to close friend Princess Diana is legendary, and the song Candle in the Wind, 1997, became a worldwide bestseller. How could the country avoid giving him a knighthood? Although possibly politically motivated, Elton deserves to be honored for his music alone, according to die-hard fans. But it’s interesting that this came so soon after Diana’s death and the criticism directed at the royal family’s public reaction.
2. Sir Mick Jagger
And now for our bad boy, Mick Jagger, who received a knighthood in 2003 for services to music. The rock rebel disappointed some fans and fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards, when he accepted the title. Richards called it a paltry honor, and expressed surprise that a Rolling Stone would bow down, quite literally, to the establishment. Jagger, a once self-proclaimed anarchist, has a colorful past full of drug-related arrests and risqué performances. He is also the father of seven children by four different women. Some critics claim his knighthood debases the title’s honor. Maybe he should have followed Bowie’s example and turned it down, it would have been more “punk rock” of him. Jagger said Richards was probably upset because he too wanted to be a knight. Many did wonder why the other Stone was snubbed. Maybe it had something to do with a rumor that Richards turned down a CBE?
1. Sir Paul McCartney
Former Beatle Paul McCartney is one of the most famous and successful musicians in pop music history, and was knighted in 1997. Sir Paul’s past, like Jagger’s, is tainted with highly publicized drug arrests, but his knighthood was no real surprise. Many did wonder, however, why fellow Beatles Ringo and George Harrison never got the nod. But back in 1965, all four Beatles were given MBEs, and shocked everyone by joking that they smoked pot in the palace bathrooms before meeting the Queen. A keen animal rights activist and vegetarian, McCartney vehemently opposes fox hunting, which is, by the way, a sport favored by the aristocracy. But this small detail didn’t keep him from visiting the palace a second time to snag the top honor. John Lennon, the working class hero, returned his MBE as a protest against violence and war, and would probably call Sir Paul a sell out. Establishment Paul however, has wavered far from his Liverpudlian roots, and seems quite content with the new status symbol. But fair play to Paul, he still actively campaigns to save foxes from the bloody jaws of the royal hounds. Maybe he lures them away with his shiny knighthood medal?