John Lennon Refused an Honor From the Royal Family So They Tried to Give It to Yoko Ono

TL:DR;

  • John Lennon’s son, Sean Ono Lennon, discussed his father turning down an honor from the royal family.
  • Sean revealed what happened when Yoko Ono had the opportunity to obtain the honor.
  • Sean said he would have behaved differently than Yoko did.
The Beatles' John Lennon wearing yellow glasses
The Beatles’ John Lennon | Ron Howard/Redferns

John Lennon‘s son, Sean Ono Lennon, revealed a lot of information about the “Imagine” singer’s life and legacy. For example, he discussed what happened after the former Beatle turned down his Member of the British Empire (MBE), an honor from the royal family. Sean had thought about how Queen Elizabeth II reacted to the situation.

Why John Lennon returned his Member of the British Empire

The Order of the British Empire is an honor given by the sovereign of the United Kingdom to honor someone’s accomplishments in the fields of arts, sciences, philanthropy, and public service. According to The Guardian, all of the members of The Beatles received MBEs in 1965 during the Queen’s Birthday Honors. In 1969, John returned his MBE.

John said he returned it because he was upset about Britain’s role in the War in Vietnam and the Nigerian Civil War. He also said he didn’t like that his single “Cold Turkey” slipped down the charts.

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John Lennon’s son revealed why Yoko Ono was offered the Member of the British Empire

During a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Sean discussed the time his father turned down his MBE. Sean didn’t think his father’s actions offended Queen Elizabeth II. “I can’t speak for the Queen, but I can imagine she wasn’t really offended,” he said. “Technically, you can’t return an MBE. You’ve been made a member of the British Empire and it’s a thing. That’s it. Giving it back doesn’t mean you’re not a member.”

Sean explained what happened to the award afterward. “So they just put it in a drawer, and years later, they actually offered it to my mom because someone had found it,” he recalled. “Like a butler was just cleaning up, as one does in the palace.”

John Lennon's son, Sean Lennon, near a window
John Lennon’s son, Sean Lennon | Paul Bergen/Redferns

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Yoko wasn’t interested in it. “They asked my mom if she wanted it and she said, ‘He gave it back, so I don’t want to go against his desire or his intention,'” Sean remembered. “So she also didn’t take it back. My mom’s a rebel too, I guess.”

Sean said Yoko responded to the situation differently than he would have. “I would have been like, ‘Sure! Thank you! I’m sorry we were a bit rude, but, you know my dad!'” he said. “But that’s me.” Sean said John returning the MBE encapsulated the former Beatle’s politics and activism.

While John’s family never regained the MBE, the episode remains a fascinating art of The Beatles’ history.

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