Queen Elizabeth II recently inducted American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour into damehood recently. The longest reigning British monarch has knighted her fair share of famous men and women during her 65-year reign.
The British system for honorific titles does not allow just anyone to become a knight or dame. One can be named a knight but be prohibited to be called 'Sir.' These are the levels of honors:
- Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE)
This is an extremely rare honor and awarded only one or twice a year. These are given out for exceptional service and considered the top rank of the order.
- Knight/Dame of the Order of the British Empire (KBE/DBE)
This is for those with major contributions in any activity on a national level. The award requires one to have committed to the activity over a long period of time. This is the second highest rank in the order.
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
This is awarded to those with prominent but lesser roles on a national level or a leading role at a regional level.
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
This award recognizes those who have played major roles on a regional level which includes people whose works have reached national acclaim in their chosen area.
- Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
This is awarded to those with an outstanding achievement that has impacted te community.
- Companion of Honour
This is awarded to one of exceptional contribution in the fields of arts, science, government, or medicine over a long period of time. This honor may be awarded to anyone.
From billionaires to rock 'n' roll legends, these are some of the most famous names to have been recognized by the British monarchy for their outstanding achievements, whether on a local or international level.
1. Bill Gates (Honorary KBE)
The billionaire was recognized for his charitable acts, and for his work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The couple has donated billions of dollars to improve health in developing countries. In 2005, he received the esteemed title when he met the Queen and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace.
For his contributions to rock ‘n’ roll culture, Beatle Paul McCartney was knighted in 1997. His fellow band members began calling him “Your Holiness” after they discovered that he was to be knighted. He is the only Beatle to be knighted, but the group did receive the Order of the British Empire at the height of their popularity. In 2010, he also became the first non-American to receive the Gershwin Award—the highest honor a musician may receive in America—bestowed upon him by President Barack Obama.
3. Bob Hope (KBE)
At the age of 95, entertainer Bob Hope was knighted. He let out an, “Oh my God,” after receiving a red-ribboned medal. Overwhelmed by the honor, he couldn’t give a speech himself but his granddaughter expressed how thrilled he was about the title.
4. Anna Wintour (DBE)
The long-serving editor-in-chief of American Vogue received a damehood for “her services to fashion and journalism.” The British-born magazine editor has worked with the publication for almost 30 years and serves as a chairperson for the Met Gala.
Well-known for his knighthood, British rock singer Elton John was knighted by the Queen in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 1998. Just a year before, he had performed “Candle in the Wind” at the funeral of Princess Diana. Aside from his contributions to British music, he also actively worked to raise money for AIDS charities.
6. Charlie Chaplin (KBE)
Silent film star Chaplin was recognized by the British monarchy for his comic genius two years before his death. At the age of 85, he rolled in in a wheelchair to meet the Queen, accompanied by his wife, Oona, and the youngest two of his nine children. The knighthood had been delayed because of belief that he sympathized with communists.
7. Ian McKellen (CBE and CH)
The Lord of the Rings actor was honored with a CBE in 1979 and a knighthood in 1992 but he almost turned it down. He thought the system was “unfair” and told Daily Mail’s magazine that, “Frankly, I don’t think we should have titles, really.” Three close friends managed to convince him to accept the honor.
8. Maggie Smith (CH)
Maggie Smith plays royalty on television series Downton Abbey, but she’s also had her fair share of encounters with real-life royalty. The actress met Queen Elizabeth in 2014 and was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour.
9. Julie Andrews (DBE)
British actress and singer Julie Andrews, dubbed the First Lady of the Musical Theater, was made a dame in 2000.
Many know Alec Guinness best as the British actor who played Obi-wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy. He was awarded his CBE in 1955, and four years later was knighted for his achievements in film and theater.
The English-born American film director made waves in the industry for his critically acclaimed work in suspense films. He was responsible for legendary films such as Psycho and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He received his knighthood in the year 1980, the same year he died.
Speaking of Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins was cast to play the director in a 2012 biopic called Hitchcock, which explores the making of the movie Psycho. He was knighted by the British Empire in 1993.
13. Patrick Stewart (OBE and Knight Bachelor)
Many would dream of being knighted by the Queen, but for Yorkshire-born actor Patrick Stewart, it was an “unlooked-for honour.” He celebrated his knighthood with a former teacher who first encouraged him to pursue acting.
The Murder, She Wrote actress and voice of Mrs. Potts in the animated film Beauty and the Beast received the honor of Dame of the British Empire at Windsor Castle. Apart from her acting career, she was honored for her charity work.
15. Helen Mirren (DBE)
For her countless roles in film, television, and theater, Mirren was appointed dame in 2003. Her portrayal of the monarch that awarded the honor landed her an Academy Award in 2007 for The Queen and she also won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her role in Elizabeth I.
16. Steven Spielberg (Honorary KBE)
The celebrated director received an honorary knighthood in a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington for his “unique and outstanding contribution to international film.” As he is not a British citizen, it would be wrong to call him Sir Steven Spielberg, but he is able to use the KBE acronym after his name as he is a Knight of the British Empire.
17. Michael Bloomberg (Honorary KBE)
Billionaire, philanthropist, and former mayor of New York, Bloomberg was made an honorary knight in 2014 for his “significant contribution” to Britain in forging Bloomberg and his “considerable philanthropic endeavors in the arts and education.” Like Spielberg, he may affix KBE after his name.
18. Melinda Gates (Honorary DBE)
More than a decade after her husband received recognition from the Queen, Melinda Gates joins in his ranks and becomes a Dame of the British Empire. She’s best known for her philanthropic work.
19. Angelina Jolie (Honorary DBE)
It’s difficult to forget that Jolie was made an honorary dame a few years back. She was recognized for her humanitarian work, as she’s been actively campaigning against sexual violence. At the time, The Guardian reported that she said, “To receive an honor related to foreign policy means a great deal to me, as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to."
20. Alexander McQueen (CBE)
In 2003, fashion designer Alexander McQueen received his CBE at Buckingham Palace. To mark the occasion, he wore a kilt in McQueen tartan, while his mother wore a pink McQueen suit.