Being a knight is often a childhood dream. We see them in Disney movies, saving the Disney Princess in distress. We see them in history books, wearing really cool armor and riding awesome-looking horses. It’s all so intriguing.
Some People Actually Get Knighted For Real
Riding around on a giant horse in medieval armor may not be a thing anymore, but plenty of people still get knighted. In fact, it’s one of the highest honors a person can receive, and a small handful of celebs have managed to snag the title. A few lucky celebs – a couple modern Hollywood stars like Angelina Jolie, legendary icons like Paul McCartney, and select U.S. presidents — have received this massive honor. Click through to see if your favorite stars have received this high honor.
Paul McCartney is an English treasure, so it’s no surprise the Beatle received one of Britain’s highest honors. On March 11, 1997, the beloved songwriter was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II because of his musical contributions to the world. The ceremony was attended by three of his four children, though his wife Linda was noticeably absent due to her struggle with breast cancer. Sadly, she passed away just over a year later.
This wasn’t the first time McCartney received some major recognition from the U.K. In October 1965, all of the Beatles received Member of the British Empire medals.
March 29, 2007, was a beautiful day for U2 singer Bono. The Irish rock star was named a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his humanitarian work against poverty and disease in Africa, as well as musical contributions. The informal ceremony took place in the Dublin home of David Reddaway, a British Ambassador.
Bono is not a British citizen, so he never got to have the title “sir” before his name. He joked about it during the ceremony. “You have permission to call me anything you want — except sir, all right? Lord of lords, your demigodness, that’ll do,” he said.
On April 24, 1998, Elton John became the first openly gay musician to receive the honor of knighthood. He received the honor because of a number of his achievements – a booming, decades-long musical career, six Grammy wins, an Oscar and Golden Globe Award, as well as all of his humanitarian work. Sir Elton John had been dedicated to his charity, which helps fight AIDS primarily in the LGBTQ community, for over 15 years at the time of his knighting.
Though the honor is amazing, he didn’t really care much. On his 70th birthday, he claimed knighthood means “[expletive] all.”
Mick Jagger, the famous Rolling Stones front man, was knighted in 2003 – but it wasn’t without some major drama. The Queen was not a fan of Mick’s anti-establishment views and thought he was a massively inappropriate candidate for such a high honor.
During Mick’s knighting ceremony, the Queen stayed as far away as she could. In fact, it was rumored that she deliberately scheduled an operation to remove cartilage from her left knee for the day before Jagger was knighted, just so she wouldn’t have to go. To be fair, he did once call the Queen “Chief Witch.”
You may recognize Anthony Hopkins from his intense, chilling role as a serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, but he’s also been given one of the United Kingdom’s highest honors. In 1993, the actor was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He described the overwhelming importance of the ceremony to The Chicago Tribune. “I am a little bit numb at the moment,” he said.
Unfortunately, when Hopkins became a U.S. citizen in 2000, he had to renounce the use of the title “Sir” while he’s in the States. He’s still allowed to be referred to as Sir Anthony Hopkins when he visits the U.K. on holiday.
Tim Burton has been given tons of recognition for his amazing film career – a Daytime Emmy, Hugo Award, and British Animation Award, as well as numerous nominations including nominations for two Academy Awards and one Golden Globe. It’s no surprised he received the major honor of being knighted in France.
He currently holds the first rank of Chevalier (knight, if you’re an English-speaker), and received the award from the Culture Minister of France alongside the French, Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard. In 2011, Helena Bonham Carter petitioned for her partner-in-crime to be knighted in England. This was just one year after he received the honor in France.
Tim Burton isn’t the only one to receive a major honor in France. In 2009, Clint Eastwood was made a commander in France’s Legion of Honour for his body of work, career longevity and ability to delight audiences around the globe. This is an even higher honor than knight, which Eastwood received two years prior. The honor was presented by Jacques Chirac, the former French president, during a swanky ceremony.
This honor is unusual, as Eastwood is an American citizen and foreigners rarely are presented with the title. The Legion was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonapart to recognize military, cultural, social or scientific contributions to France.
Maggie Smith is a prolific and talented actress known for things such as her role as Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films as well as for her as the Countess of Grantham in PBS’ period drama Downton Abbey. You may also know her as Harry Potter’s sharp-tongued professor Minerva McGonagall. What you don’t know is that Smith is a knight – or the female version of one.
In a 2014 ceremony at Windsor Castle, the Queen presented Smith with damehood to honor her over fifty-year career in show business. The actress has been seen everywhere from the silver screen to stints on Broadway in the 1950s. She’s won awards for her roles in plays such as Hedda Gabler, Three Sisters and Private Lives.
Angelina Jolie isn’t just an award-winning actress. She’s a humanitarian who was made an honorary dame by Queen Elizabeth II because of her charitable work, rather than her awesome acting chops.
On October 10, 2014, Jolie was presented with the Insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Her honorary damehood was granted because of her services to U.K. foreign policy and all of the work she did campaigning to end war zone sexual violence. Because Jolie isn’t British, she’s not allowed to use the word Dame in front of her name, but the honor is still one of the greatest nonetheless.
Leonardo didn’t receive his Oscar until 2016 (we know, he definitely deserved one for Titanic, but we’re not going to be petty about it). Instead, good ole Jack was honored with something that may even be better. Aside from being a general, all-around amazing actor and handsome guy, DiCaprio received France’s highest cultural honor in 2005. In the 2005 ceremony, he was named a knight alongside director Martin Scorsese.
DiCaprio isn’t just movie star. He’s also dedicated himself to reversing global warming. In 2016, he released a documentary called Before the Flood which he hoped would inspire people to reduce their carbon footprint.
In 1989, former president Ronald Reagan was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Reagan’s conservative political leanings and easy-going attitude made him a close ally with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during his presidency, so the honor was hardly a surprise.
The ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace, and Reagan told reporters he felt “greatly honored.” He was given an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath, one of the highest honors for a non-Briton. Of course, because Reagan is American, he cannot be called Sir, but it’s still a massive achievement. He was allowed to sit closer to the queen than any other non-knighted former U.S. president.
Ben Kinglsey’s award-winning acting career spans over 40 years, so it’s no surprise that British actor was given one of the highest honors. In 2002, at the age of 58, Kingsley was knighted during an emotional ceremony. According to the actor, best known for his role as Ghandi, knighthood made him feel wanted in a way his mother never did.
“My mother refused to acknowledge my knighthood, which I found bitterly hurtful,”he told The Mirror. “The wonderful woman who is the Queen and who is almost like a mum had said, ‘We accept you and love what you do’. But my mother refused to acknowledge it had taken place. She was embarrassed and bitter and jealous.”
Christopher Lee was a legendary actor, starring in some of the most renowned science fiction films including both the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars trilogies. In fact, his work is still being released despite his passing. The actor has two films in post-production expected to be released sometime in 2017.
In 2009, the actor was finally granted knighthood for his amazing contribution to film. The actor starred in over 250 films during his decades-long career and finally received the honor at the age of 87. He was knighted by the Prince of Wales, but didn’t divulge much about the ceremony. All he said was that the Prince, “Couldn’t have been nicer and was very easy to talk to.”
Charlie Chaplin was an American silent film icon, having received numerous awards for his work. As the winner of two Academy Honorary Awards, a BAFTA Fellowship and Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, there’s hardly an American alive who doesn’t know who Charlie Chaplin is. Despite his fame, he was actually blocked from knighthood.
At the time of his nomination, it was thought that honoring Chaplin would upset the general public because he supported communism during a time of heightened fear. In 1956, officials in the American government convinced the British committee to not award Chaplin with the honor. 0Chaplin did finally get welcomed into knighthood. In 1975, when he was 85 years old, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
George H.W. Bush
It’s not super often that an American president gets knighted, but in 1993, George H.W. Bush was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. The former president was knighted at Buckingham Palace and joined the ranks of a small handful of American presidents (all republican) who have been given the same honor.
Because Bush is American, he didn’t have to kneel down during the ceremony, but he’s also not allowed to call himself Sir. Unlike some knighting ceremonies, Bush’s ceremony was rather low-key. He attended a small, private lunch at the palace and all conversation was top secret.
Raise your hand if you knew Gandolf from Lord of the Rings was a knight? We didn’t either, but apparently, he was! Actually, actor Ian McKellen almost turned the honor down.
“Frankly, I don’t think we should have titles, really,” he told The Daily Mail. “It’s a very strange system, isn’t it? Actors are more likely to get them than fire chiefs or people who have spent their lives doing charity work, which is a bit unfair, isn’t it? I was in two minds about it, I liked being Mr. McKellen. And if we all said no, it would stop.” He ended up accepting the honor in 1991.
Okay, so Ed Sheeran may not actually be a knight, but during a drunken, prank knighting ceremony, Princess Beatrice almost sliced off Ed Sheeran’s cheek. This is why you shouldn’t go around giving honors all willy nilly. According to reports, Princess Beatrice attempted to “knight” James Blunt during a drunken hangout, but things went totally awry. She lifted the ceremonial sword and accidentally slashed Sheeran across the face, because of course Ed Sheeran, James Blunt, and Princess Beatrice are all mates.
Princess Beatrice may not have the actual power to knight someone – especially when she’s been drinking – but that didn’t stop her from joking around. She’s the second female in line to succeed her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.
Not David Beckham
Apparently, David Beckham was pretty darn angry that he wasn’t knighted. The beloved soccer star seems like he would be a shoe-in for knighthood, but some leaked emails state otherwise. Recently, The Sun uncovered an alleged $2.5 million plot to blackmail Beckham on the threat of releasing some sensitive emails, that were first published on Football Leaks, a European website that really dishes some drama. The subject of some of these emails? Beckham’s lack of knighthood.
Apparently, one of the stolen emails between Beckham and PR adviser Simon Oliveira showed Beckham cursing about being passed over for knighthood – but you’ll never guess what he actually said.
David Beckham’s Nasty Email
Beckham wasn’t just sad he missed out on being knighted – he was livid. In fact, he blamed the fact that he wasn’t American as the reason he didn’t receive the British honor. He allegedly wrote: “They’re a bunch of [expletive] I expected nothing less… Who decides on the honors? It’s a disgrace to be honest and if I was American I would of [sic] got something like this 10 years ago… It’s pissed me off those old unappreciative cunts. Unless it’s a knighthood [expletive] off.”
According to a spokesperson, the email is taken totally out of context from hacked and doctored private emails. Perhaps Beckham wasn’t as much of a sore loser as he seems.
Iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor was honored when Queen Elizabeth II invited her to become a dame on New Years 2000. Taylor had citizenship in both the UK and the US, and was born in London. She was chosen to become a dame because of her contributions to both the entertainment industry, and her charity work. Taylor also actively helped raise funding for AIDS research and was one of the first celebrities to do so. She also co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
She said of the honor, “Well, I’ve always been a ‘broad.’ Now it’s a great honor to be a dame!” Taylor passed away on March 23, 2011 due to congestive heart failure.
Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
In 2003 Hellen Mirren became a dame by Queen Elizabeth II’s selection. The Queen must have been impressed with Mirren’s performance playing none other than the Queen herself, in Stephen Frear’s 2006 film, The Queen. Mirren’s successful career in acting led her to win an Academy Award for Best Actress and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Also born in London, Mirren has played many roles on stage in the theatre as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Aside from becoming a dame, Hellen Mirren also has a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in her honor.
Photo: BBC America
On the same day that Elizabeth Taylor became a Dame, so too did actress Julie Andrews. Born in Britain, actress Julie Andrews got her start in the UK before spending most of her career in the US. She held starring roles in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, and has won five Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Emmys, a Screen Actros Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and an Academy Award, among others. Growing up poor in a slum area of London, it must have been especially rewarding for Andrews to meet the Queen and be selected as a dame.