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The reason why David Bowie refused honours from The Queen


Rock ‘n’ roll is a vehicle of anti-establishment in its purest form. Seeing an artist kneel to the Royal Family in acceptance of a knighthood firmly splits opinion among any fanbase.

The conversation regarding whether or not musicians should accept this honour was first brought into public consciousness when John Lennon handed back his MBE in 1969, and the debate has continued to rumble on since. In a letter, he told Her Majesty: “I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts”.

In more recent times, this discussion reared its head again in 2017 thanks to Mercury Prize-winning artist Skepta. He rapped on his track ‘Hypocrisy’: “Just came back from the Ivors, And look at what we collected, The MBE got rejected, I’m not trying to be accepted”.

The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger was heavily criticised when he accepted the opportunity to become a ‘Sir’ after having previously labelled The Queen as “chief witch”. His decision upset many, including his bandmate Keith Richards. “I don’t want to step out on stage with someone wearing a coronet and sporting the old ermine,” the guitarist told Uncut. “I told Mick it’s a paltry honour… it’s not what the Stones is about, is it?” he added.

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One person from the same school of thought as Keith Richards was the late David Bowie, an artist who rejected the opportunity to be knighted alongside his ‘Dancing In The Street’ collaborator in 2003.

Bowie was first offered a CBE in 2000, which he turned down, and when they returned with an improved proposal, Bowie was still not interested in stepping foot in Buckingham Palace for the ceremony. Explaining the rejection during an interview ith The Sun, Bowie said: “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. It’s not my place to make a judgment on Jagger, it’s his decision. But it’s just not for me”.

Bowie was then questioned by the publication on whether this stance was because he held an “anti-monarchy” viewpoint, which he carefully deflected, by saying: “I’d only have a serious answer to that if I was living in this country”.

Bowie was an artist who constantly pushed against the status quo and defied societal norms with everything he did. While thesinger was never overtly political with his output, something deep within would have felt strange if he had agreed to bow down to his unelected overlords.

While Bowie always kept his genuine opinion on the monarchy close to his chest, his refusal does confirm that he believes artists shouldn’t be getting into bed with those who herald the most power in society.

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