Skip to main content

One of the greatest honors someone can receive from the United Kingdom is receiving a knighthood. However, not everyone wants the title. This included rock star David Bowie. 

Who gets to be knighted by the British monarchy?

Anyone can be nominated for knighthood (or damehood for women), but they must meet the monarch’s criteria. The nominee will have made an important contribution to the UK and the world, inspiring and influencing others with their work. Only citizens of the UK can officially be made knights or dames. However, people from all over the world can receive an honorary version of the title. 

The late Queen Elizabeth knighted almost 300 people during her reign. This included diplomats, politicians, business leaders, artists, humanitarians, and athletes. Some of the most notable people who received knighthoods over the last few years include Paul McCartney, Emma Thompson, Elton John, Sean Connery, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, and Elizabeth Taylor

Why David Bowie turned down a knighthood

David Bowie sings into a microphone
David Bowie performs on stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992. I Michael Putland/Getty Images

While most people would jump at the chance to be knighted by the British royal family, David Bowie turned it down. He was one of the most iconic rock stars of the 1970s, dominating the world with songs like “Life on Mars?,” “Rebel Rebel,” and “Heroes.”

Bowie was one of the biggest stars in the UK, so it’s no surprise that he was chosen to be honored by the monarchy. In 2000, Bowie was awarded a CBE (Order of the British Empire). Three years later, he was chosen for knighthood. However, the rocker declined both honors. 

“I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that,” Bowie said of his decision to turn down the offer of both honors. “I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”

The same year Bowie was offered the knighthood, Mick Jagger was awarded the honor as well. The pair were friends, but Bowie said it wasn’t his place “to make a judgment” about Jagger’s decision. “It’s just not for me,” he added.

Some have wondered if he declined the CBE and knighthood because he was anti-monarchy. Bowie didn’t answer one way or the other, only saying that since he had chosen to live in the United States, he didn’t have “a serious answer” to the question. 

David Bowie wasn’t the first to reject the offer of a knighthood


David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl’ Featured a Future Rock Star on Guitar

Bowie is not the only person who has turned down the title of “Sir” or “Dame.” Other notable figures who have declined the honor include scientist Stephen Hawking, director Danny Boyle, actor Albert Finney, and writers Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, and Rudyard Kipling.