As the David Beckham email leaks poignantly prove, ambition makes you look pretty ugly, and the sycophantic hunger for social status and all the artful artifice of bestowed honors makes you look uglier than an ugly pig beaten senseless with an ugly stick.
The one sordid revelation from the David Beckham email leak which overshadows all the rest in its garish and toe-curling shamelessness, is old “golden balls” desperation to kneel before The Queen as a subject and arise a knight of the realm.
Alas, Beckham’s achievements on the football pitch seemed to matter little compared with his golden goal of being knighted by the royal family. His philanthropy and charity work all now appear to be exposed as a strategic PR exercise which was charting a course in one direction only – Buckingham Palace.
Sadly, it was not to be. The ruse has been exposed, the ploy uncovered, and the plot most foul has been left to shrivel in shame in the cold unforgiving glare of the spotlight.
Friends have solemnly announced that for the time being David has given up all hope of being knighted. How sad. Sadder still, is why he was obsessed with being given a gong by his monarch in the first place.
Not everyone considers getting a knighthood something to be proud of.
Many of it’s more severe critics view the UK honors system as symbolic of the antiquated class, inherited privilege and grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth which still exists in Britain to this day.
Others simply regard it as a steaming pile of shambolic trite that appeals solely to egotistical maniacs and status crazy social climbers.
In many ways to “arise” or not to rise to the occasion is the mark by which the man can be measured.
Sir Mick Jagger campaigned vigorously for the honor to become a knight but fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards just dismissed his bandmate’s treasured ambition in one word – “ludicrous.”
And to be fair the old lush had a valid point. Jagger may have taken his place at Queen Elizabeth’s round table alongside such battled hardened warriors as Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Bruce Forsyth, but let’s face it, if you were gong to war would you want this sorry shower leading the way?
Ministers called for a shake-up to the honors system in 2013 after it was revealed that more civil servants than Olympians received gongs that year.
Even more shocking was the hilarious revelation that Honors Secretary Darryl Cooper, the man responsible for selecting those who get honors, decided that year to award himself an MBE.
Is it no wonder that this arcane system which has become something of a farcical comedy called “Carry on up the Knighthood” is shunned and avoided by many in life who know the true worth of their own achievements and do not need feel the need to be recognized by a devious and dubious feudal system which favors elitism and inequality by token of birth.
As the late Michael Winer, who famously rejoiced in snubbing an OBE once said, “I couldn’t give a sh*t about a CBE or a Knighthood so I just thought ‘stuff it.'”
“If you look at the people who have turned down honors it makes for a wonderful list. I’d rather be in that group than the seedy lot who took the so-called honor, groveled for it and carried it home like a prize possession to show off. The only prize possession to value in life is that of how we behave.”
So without further ado, let’s have a look at seven people who might have been knights but couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed and “arise.”
Picture the following scenario. Two Davids. Both Londoners. Both famous in their respective fields. One is dead. One is alive. One turned down the Knighthood and the other desperately craves one like a demented dog chasing its own tail.
After turning down a CBE in 2000, David Bowie went one better in 2003 and declined the palace’s offer of a knighthood.
It’s refreshing there are still class acts like David Robert Jones who realizes his integrity and legacy would be damaged beyond repair by acknowledging an irrelevant “honor,” or for that matter performing live at the spectacularly crass travesty which was the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.
Anyhow, the man was already a thin white duke so what did he need the approval of the establishment for? As the British exile once said himself upon the matter, “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.” How right you are sir!
Aldous Huxley was a visionary. The passing of time has proved his 1931 novel Brave New World disturbingly accurate in its grim portrayal of the future.
Huxley’s experiments with psychedelics also led to him writing the hippie handbook, “The Doors of Perception” which in turn gave one of the best rock groups of all time their name – The Doors.
Huxley was not overtly optimistic about the future of society and in October 1949 when he wrote to George Orwell to congratulate him on writing 1984, he warned, “Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.”
What he would have made of the modern day obsession with Kate Middleton and Prince William would no doubt make for engaging reading.
Huxley remained troubled throughout his life by mankind’s tendency toward distinctly hierarchical social organization, so obviously, when he was offered a knighthood in 1959, four years before his death, he stuck to his principles and told them to go whistle Dixie.
Lancashire artist L.S. Lowry holds the distinguished honor of turning down more “honors” than any other person in history.
The Salford painter rejected a grand total of five honors, including a knighthood in 1968. A fact which would no doubt make such hordes of sycophantic celebrities drop their jaws in complete disbelief and abject confusion. Much like a field of sheep would if one of their number was to suddenly attack the farmer when he was in the business of bringing them some top quality feed.
The man who found fame through depicting the urban landscapes and industrial districts of North West England was all too familiar with the daily plight of the masses to put food on their table compared with the pampered luxury and idle apathy of the elite.
So instead of turning Judas and accepting the establishment’s 30 pieces of silver, the lad from Salford stayed true to himself because he did not want to, “change his situation.”
People have been turning down honors for as long as they’ve been dishing them out. A case in point is English scientist Michael Faraday who was one of the greatest scientific minds ever to look at the world and say, “I could make this place a whole lot better.”
Not only did he discover the electromagnetic field and lay the foundations for electric motor technology, Faraday’s brain was so big, even the likes of Albert Einstein kept a picture of the great man on his study wall next to old apple head – Isaac Newton.
Faraday was born into a poor working class background where his parents often struggled to find enough money to put food on the table for young Faraday and his siblings.
Although possessing all the qualities of true genius, Faraday was not considered a “gentleman” by the class-obsessed English society and found it hard to be accepted as such in the Royal Institution where became a chemical assistant in 1813.
In fact, so dire were his experiences of the “upper crust” he was almost tempted to jack in science altogether in his early twenties. Thankfully he didn’t, but he never forgot his treatment at the hands of his so called “betters” and when that self same establishment offered Faraday the opportunity to join their gang by trying to tempt him with a knighthood. The great man simply said, “Do one you two bit slags!” Or words to that effect.
Faraday was a great man in every sense of the word and it’s also worth noting that when a war mongering British government asked him to advise on the production of chemical weapons for use in the Crimean War (1853–1856), Faraday refused on ethical grounds.
When you’re the son of a Yorkshire coal miner, it must be a tad surreal to be offered a knighthood and somewhat satisfying to say “Up yours Your Majesty.”
Moore’s first taste of royalty was serving in the Prince of Wales’s Own Civil Service Rifles regiment when he was just 18. After being injured in a gas attack during the battle of Cambrai in the First World War, Moore’s life in the service of King and Country was at an end and he went on to make a household name for himself as a great sculptor and major figure in the modern art movement.
When Moore was offered a knighthood in 1951, he refused because he didn’t want to become part of an establishment which nullifies all creative thinking. So there!
The Salford lad who made a name for himself on the screen as the archetypal angry young man, would have no doubt faced a lot of criticism in certain quarters if he had accepted a knighthood in 2000.
Thankfully he didn’t and what’s more he also turned down a CBE in 1980 because he didn’t want to be recognized by a system which in his own words is guilty of “perpetuating snobbery.”
And who said actors are a fickle bunch that would sell their own mother for a leading role.
It’s quite a surprise to find that the Jungle Book author who is buried at Westminster Abbey and who George Orwell called a “prophet of British imperialism” turned down a knighthood.
The full reasons why Kipling turned down a knighthood are not known, at least not by me, but it’s a true mark of the man.
Take note Bradley Wiggins – If you can keep your honor when all about you are losing theirs and accepting knighthoods. Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it and – which is more – you’ll be a man my son.
[Featured Image by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images]