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The 32 celebrities who turned down prestigious awards and honours, from Helen Mirren to Nigella Lawson

 A collage showing Meryl Streep, Sacheen Little Feather at the 1972 Oscars and Dolly Parton.
A collage showing Meryl Streep, Sacheen Little Feather at the 1972 Oscars and Dolly Parton.

What would life be without an awards show? 

From giving us the best red carpet fashion to some seriously inspiring hair moments, it's an unapologetic display of glamour as the leading talents of the day are recognised for their work across film, television, theatre and music.

However, not every celebrity wants the plaudits - here we look at stars who haven't been afraid to say 'thanks, but no thanks' to major honours, from Grammys to OBEs and more...

32 celebrities who turned down prestigious awards

Dolly Parton turned down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Dolly Parton in a yellow gown
Dolly Parton in a yellow gown

The legendary Dolly Parton initially turned down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, taking to her social media to explain why she refused the honour.

At the time, Dolly said that she was "flattered and grateful" but did "not feel that I have earned the right" to receive the nomination from the iconic institution.

Well, as it turned out, Dolly had her mind changed - and it led to her releasing her first-ever rock album to deserve the honour. A win for everyone!

Sinead O'Connor refused a Grammy

Sinead O'Connor
Sinead O'Connor

Back in 1991, the late Sinead O'Connor was nominated for four awards for the 33rd annual Grammy Awards. However, Sinead did a famous first and pre-emptively announced she would refuse any award won.

In an open letter to the Grammy Academy, the Nothing Compares 2 U singer wrote, "As artists, I believe our function is to express the feelings of the human race - to always speak the truth and never keep it hidden even though we are operating in a world which does not like the sound of the truth.

“We are allowing ourselves to be portrayed as being in some way more important, more special than the very people we are supposed to be helping - by the way we dress, by the cars we travel in, by the ‘otherworldliness’ of our shows and by a lot of what we say in our music.

"How can we sit there hoping to win a Grammy when we have failed in our duty as artists to speak the truth?"

That year, Sinead did win for Best Alternative Music Performance, but true to her word, she boycotted the ceremony.

Julie Andrews rejected a Tony nomination

Julie Andrews posing for Thoroughly Modern Millie
Julie Andrews posing for Thoroughly Modern Millie

Julie Andrews is one of the most beloved actresses of all time - and the reason why she rejected a Tony nomination in 1996 is proof of why.

The Mary Poppins icon rejected her Tony nomination for Victor/Victoria in support of the show’s creative team, who were not nominated.

Per Playbill, during a curtain call, she said, "I have searched my conscience and my heart and find that I cannot accept this nomination, and prefer instead to stand with the egregiously overlooked."

THREE acts turned down the Grammys in the same year

Alastair Moock on the Grammys red carpet
Alastair Moock on the Grammys red carpet

In 2021, three of the five artists nominated for Best Children’s Album asked the Recording Academy - the body behind the Grammys - to remove them from the shortlist.

Following the heightened status of the Black Lives Matter movement following a summer of protests and the killing of George Floyd, musical acts Alastair Moock & Friends, the Okee Dokee Brothers, and Dog on Fleas reacted to the all-white nominations.

In a joint letter, the three acts said, "In the past 10 years, only about 6% of nominated acts have been Black-led or co-led, another 8% or so have been non-Black-POC-led, and around 30% have been female led. These numbers would be disappointing in any category, but - in a genre whose performers are unique tasked with modeling fairness, kindness, and inclusion; in a country where more than half of all children are non-white; and after a year of national reckoning around race and gender - the numbers are unacceptable."

Marlon Brando refused an Oscar

Sacheen Little Feather at the Oscars, accepting to read Marlon Brandon's protest letter
Sacheen Little Feather at the Oscars, accepting to read Marlon Brandon's protest letter

In 1972, Marlon Brando should have felt like the King of Hollywood. He was the star of The Godfather, which was named Best Picture of 1972.

Brando also won Best Actor at the 45th annual Academy Awards. However, the legendary star refused to attend - and rejected his win.

In his place, an American Indian - Sacheen Little Feather - took to the stage and read out a speech from the actor. She read, "Marlon Brando very regretfully cannot accept this award because of the treatment of American Indians in this country today on the television, on reruns and recent happenings at Wounded Knee."

Little Feather was booed by the crowd at the time.

Jennifer Saunders turned down an OBE

Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Saunders

In 2001, the comic brain behind the beloved Absolutely Fabulous was included on the Queen's New Year's Honours list.

However, Jennifer Saunders politely rejected the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), saying it "didn't feel right" to accept in the context of her father receiving a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his work as a Royal Air Force pilot.

"If I felt I deserved a Damehood I'd accept it," she told Source magazine, per Metro. "At the time, we felt that we were being paid very well to have a lot of fun. It didn’t seem right somehow. We didn’t deserve a pat on the back. It felt a bit fake to stand alongside people who devoted their lives to truly worthy causes."

Dawn French declined an OBE

Dawn French
Dawn French

Dawn French was included on the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2001 alongside her long-time comedy partner Jennifer Saunders. However, in solidarity with AbFab actress Jennifer, Dawn turned down the honour as they felt they "didn't deserve a pat on the back" for their work in comedy.

Still, Dawn has enjoyed some amusing memories with the royals after turning down the honour.

Of a hilarious encounter with King Charles, she shared on Virgin Radio, "I was in one of the Narnia films. And I played Mrs. Beaver, opposite Ray Winstone, playing Mr. Beaver, and we went to the royal premiere. I was quite excited about meeting Charlie, because I’ve got a bit of fancy for him.

"Anyway, he was coming down the line, greeting everybody... And he said to me, 'Well, the last time I saw you, I saw your Bottom', referring to the character Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, that I played.

"And I thought, 'Right, we’re off' And I said, 'Tonight, Sir, you will see my Beaver!'"

Michael Sheen returned his OBE

Michael Sheen
Michael Sheen

Actor Michael Sheen accepted an OBE for his acting work in 2009, but he eventually returned it.

During an interview with journalist Owen Jones on his YouTube channel, he revealed that he changed his mind about the accolade when he began researching Welsh history when he was invited to speak at the Learning and Work Institute's Annual Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture in 2017.

The Good Omens actor said he meant "absolutely no disrespect" in returning the OBE, and added he was at the time "incredibly honoured" to have received it.

"I just realised I'd be a hypocrite if I said the things I was going to say in the lecture about the nature of the relationship between Wales and the British state."

Nigella Lawson declined an OBE

Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson

The popular chef and TV personality, Nigella Lawson, revealed she turned down the honour in 2001.

Included in the Honours List, the queen of cooking - and pronouncing microwave in unique ways - was reported by outlets as saying "I'm not saving lives and I'm not doing anything other than something I absolutely love."

Alan Cumming returned an OBE

Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming

Scottish star of stage and screen Alan Cumming received an OBE back in 2009, but he returned the honour in 2023.

Announcing the decision himself on his own social media, Alan penned a lengthy statement revealing why he changed his mind about the OBE.

"Fourteen years ago, I was incredibly grateful to receive it in the 2009 Queen's Birthday honours list, for it was awarded not just for my job as an actor but 'for activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, USA'.

"Back then the Defence of Marriage Act ensured that same-sex couples couldn't get married or enjoy the same basic legal rights as straight people, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell ensured that openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people were barred from serving in the military.

"Thankfully, times and laws in the US have changed, and the great good the award brought to the LGBTQ+ cause back in 2009 is now less potent than the misgivings I have being associated with the toxicity of empire (OBE stands for Officer of the British Empire). So, I returned my award, explained my reasons and reiterated my great gratitude for being given it in the first place. I'm now back to being plain old Alan Cumming again. Happy birthday to me!"

David Bowie rejected the New Year's Honours list several times

David Bowie
David Bowie

David Bowie is arguably one of the biggest musical icons of all time.

For his work, he was actually offered two honours - a CBE in 2000 and then a knighthood in 2003.

However, he told the Sun in 2003, "I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that... I seriously don't know what it's for."

Bowie was also asked if he was anti-monarchy, to which the Life on Mars singer shared, "I'd only have a serious answer to that if I was living in this country."

He moved to the US in 1974 and stayed there until he died in 2016.

Stephen Hawking refused a Knighthood

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

One of the most prolific scientists of all time, Stephen Hawking was thought to have been offered a knighthood sometime in the 1990s, but he decided to turn it down.

The reason behind his decision was never confirmed, though it was reportedly due to the UK Government's lack of adequate science funding.

While he turned down a Knighthood, he was made part of the Order of the Companion of Honour in 1989. He was also granted a CBE in 1982.

Paul Weller turned down a CBE

Paul Weller
Paul Weller

The former frontman of The Jam was offered a chance to become Commander of the British Empire during the 2006 birthday honours, but he turned down the offer.

In a statement at the time, a spokesperson for the artist often referred to as the Modfather said, "Paul was surprised and flattered, but it wasn't really for him."

John Cleese has turned down a few honours

John Cleese
John Cleese

Monty Python star John Cleese has turned down a few titles and honours over the years.

He was first selected for a CBE in 1996 but reportedly called the honours "silly".

He was later offered a peerage by Liberal Democrat politician Paddy Ashdown in 1999 - he declined for the most amusing (and British) of reasons, the weather.

He is quoted as saying staying in England during the winter months to fulfil his role as a working peer was "too much of a price to pay."

Danny Boyle turned down a Knighthood

Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle, director and the visionary behind the spectacular London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, turned down an honour because he thought it was "was wrong".

Part of his reasoning was because the work completed was a collective effort.

"It's just not me", he told Radio Times, pointing out that thousands were involved in pulling off the ceremony.

"You can make these speeches about 'this is everybody's work, blah blah blah'," he said. "And you've got to mean it, and I did mean it, and it is true, and it's the only way you can carry on something like that: through the efforts of all the people. I don't know whether I’ll ever get invited back to the Palace."

George Harrison turned down an OBE

George Harrison from the Beatles
George Harrison from the Beatles

One of the founding members of the Beatles turned down an OBE in 2000.

Every Beatles member had already been awarded an MBE back in 1965, but some of the other members continued to receive separate honours.

In 1997, Paul McCartney became a Knight, and this might have been the reason George Harrison turned down his OBE three years later.

"Whoever it was who decided to offer him the OBE and not the knighthood was extraordinarily insensitive," friend Roy Connolly told the Independent. "George would have felt insulted – and with very good reason."

John Lennon sent back his MBE

John Lennon
John Lennon

Beatles member and legendary artist John Lennon returned the MBE he received alongside the other founding members of the history-making British band in 1965.

However, as John Lennon became more politically outspoken and an advocate for peace, the British government's support of the Nigerian government in a bloody civil war led him to return his medal.

On 25 November 1969, John Lennon sent the honour back to the Queen, along with a note which read, "Your Majesty, I am returning this in 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. With Love, John Lennon of Bag."

Drake withdrew his Grammy nominations

Drake
Drake

Canadian rapper Drake withdrew his two 2022 Grammy nominations.

While Drake never officially explained his motivation for declining the nominations, according to Variety, he has had a "long and at times contentious relationship with the Grammys."

Following The Weeknd's snub in 2020, he wrote in a statement posted to Instagram, "I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards, and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after."

Roald Dahl turned down an OBE

Roald Dahl with his two children
Roald Dahl with his two children

Roald Dahl is one of the most celebrated authors in British history, crafting such timeless tales as Matilda and James and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

A Freedom of Information request in 2012 revealed that the beloved author turned down an invitation to become an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1986.

No reason has ever been given.

Katherine Heigl refused to submit for an Emmy nomination

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl

Katherine Heigl didn't quite turn down an award, but she refused to even allow herself to be in the running.

Despite winning an Emmy for her role as Dr Izzie Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy in 2007, she refused to submit herself again the following year as she "did not feel that (she) was given the material to warrant" the nomination.

Speaking in an episode of Variety‘s Actors on Actors with former co-star Ellen Pompeo, she said, “There was no part of me that imagined a bad reaction. I felt really justified in how I felt about it and where I was coming from. I’ve spent most of my life - I think most women do - being in that people-pleasing mode."

"It’s really disconcerting when you feel like you have really displeased everybody. It was not my intention to do so, but I had some things to say, and I didn’t think I was going to get such a strong reaction."

Peter O'Toole turned down a Knighthood

Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole

English stage and film actor best known for roles in Lawrence of Arabia Peter O'Toole holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for acting without a win (tied with Glenn Close at eight).

Despite being one of the pre-eminent acting talents, the star never received honours from the Queen - by his choice.

He turned down the opportunity to become a Knight in 1987. No official reason or statement was ever given but it's possible his political leanings played a part.

O'Toole was a vocal opponent against British involvement in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Vanessa Redgrave turned down honours for decades

Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave

A true legend in the acting world, Vanessa Redgrave has earnt every honour imaginable - including Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Golden Globes.

However, she famously turned down the chance to become a Dame in 1999.

Per Hollywood Reporter, Vanessa addressed the controversy during a film festival in 2018, "I’m not against the royal family; they do many good things and the royal family in England is one of the red lines that can save England at certain moments."

"It isn’t the royal family or the queen who offers the honour, it’s the government of the day. So I would never say I refused an honour from the queen. But I could not and would not accept any honour from Mr. Blair, when he has taken our country, and so many people, to war on the basis of a lie."

Vanessa Redgrave would eventually accept her Damehood in 2022.

Geraldine McEwan refused a Damehood

Geraldine McEwan
Geraldine McEwan

Best known for playing the Agatha Christie heroine Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan turned down both an OBE in 1986 and a Damehood in 2002.

Geraldine - who was a five-time Olivier Award nominee - retired from acting after playing Miss Marple between 2004 and 2008. She died in 2015, at the age of 82.

Glenda Jackson turned down multiple honours

Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson

Glenda Jackson was an English actress and one of the few performers to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting, having won two Academy Awards, three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award.

In 1992, she pivoted her career to go into politics, serving on the Labour Party for 23 years.

Glenda had accepted a CBE in 1978 , but reportedly turned down a Damehood. In an interview with the Evening Standard the Sunday Bloody Sunday actress revealed, "I'd only want to be a dame if it was in panto."

Alan Rickman turned down a CBE

Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman

The late Alan Rickman was one of the most recognisable British stars, having played iconic roles such as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

The late actor is said to have turned down a CBE during his career. However, he never made his reasoning public at the time.

Jim Broadbent refused an OBE

Jim Broadbent
Jim Broadbent

Per the Independent, the Bridget Jones actor said that he had declined the honour in 2002 as he felt there were better-suited recipients than actors.

"We get treated well all the time,” he said. "Actors who get these awards have all won lots of treats along the way doing what they love doing – they don’t need more presents."

“Richard Eyre, when asked why he accepted his knighthood, said, ‘Vanity’, and when I’m asked why I turned it down, I say the same."

"Vanity. Not a good look. Didn’t suit me."

Meryl Streep was reluctant to accept an Emmy

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is the most nominated actress in Oscars history, with a staggering 21 nominations to date.

However, at the start of her career, Meryl took a strong stance against awards.

In 1978, The Devil Wears Prada starred in a four-part miniseries about the Holocaust. It told of two German families in Berlin before and during World War Two.

Meryl was nominated for an Emmy, however, she very vocally tried to turn it down.

After being told she would win the Outstanding Leading Actress in a Limited Series, according to CheatSheet, She said, "I don’t think performances should be taken out of context and put up against each other for awards."

Helen Mirren turned down her first CBE

Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren

An interesting fact about Helen Mirren: The actress has played royalty several times, and even played the late Queen Elizabeth II twice - in the Oscar-winning film, The Queen, and in the 2013 West End play The Audience.

Perhaps it was Helen's work playing the country's longest-serving monarch which eventually swayed her mind. The actress would eventually accept a Damehood in 2003, seven years after originally turning down a CBE in 1996. It's never been confirmed why she first turned down the honour.

Julie Christie turned down a CBE

Julie Christie
Julie Christie

Oscar-winning actress Julie Christie, who was an emblem of the Swinging Sixties, reportedly turned down the chance to be on the Queen's Honours list in 2008.

Some of her most notable roles in film include Doctor Zhivago and Finding Neverland, and she won the Best Actress Academy Award in 1965 for Darling.

While she never publicly addressed the honours, her politics might have been a deciding factor. She has been married to left-wing journalist Duncan Campbell and been with him since 1979.

Prince Philip (plus Charles, Edward and Andrew) turned down a title

Prince Philip
Prince Philip

A strange one here, where members of the Royal Family found themselves in a peculiar position.

In the 1990s, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government were reforming the House of Lords – something which would be solidified in the House of Lords Act 1999. This ended the majority of hereditary peerages.

However, in a surprising move given the context of ending familial peerages and titles, he offered life peerages to several members of the Royal Family, including Princes Philip, Edward and Andrew.

The offer from the New Labour government would have allowed them to continue to sit in the Lords but it was quietly turned down by the royals.

Tom Cruise returned his Golden Globes

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise

In May 2021, Tom Cruise returned all three of the Golden Globes he'd been awarded throughout his career in an act of protest against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA, the body behind the Golden Globe ceremony).

According to Entertainment Weekly, Tom's decision to return his Golden Globes won for Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia came as the HFPA faced intense criticism for an "utter lack of diversity."

A boycott by all major stars led the ceremony to be taken off air for the first time after it came to light not one of the voters was Black.

Dolly Parton turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom TWICE

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is a woman not afraid to say no to things. Not only did she originally refuse her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award, in 2021 she revealed she had turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom... twice!

In an interview on Today, the country legend said that President Trump's administration tried to give her the award on two different occasions.

She explained, "I couldn't accept it because my husband was ill. Then, they asked me again about it, and I wouldn't travel because of Covid. So, now I feel like if I take it, I'll be doing politics, so I'm not sure."