Honorary non-Britons who made the cut

Recipients of honorary awards who later become British nationals can apply to convert their awards to substantive ones

American citizen Bill Gates received an honorary knighthood. – AP
American citizen Bill Gates received an honorary knighthood. – AP

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Thu 6 Jan 2022, 9:52 PM

Britain's honours system also recognises the work and achievements of foreign nationals through nominations by the Foreign Secretary, including those from countries that do not have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. In such cases, the awards are ‘honorary’. Should someone receive an honorary knighthood or damehood, the recipient is entitled to place initials after his/her name.

However, unlike citizens of countries that do have the Queen as their head of state, they are not entitled to style themselves ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’. Recipients of honorary awards who later become British nationals may apply to convert their awards to substantive ones, as was the case with violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, who was a US citizen when he was knighted in 1965, but received a life peerage in 1993 after becoming a British citizen.

Other prominent American citizens awarded honorary knighthood or damehood include George H W Bush GCB, Dwight D Eisenhower GCB, Bill Gates KBE, Melinda Gates DBE, Mark Getty KBE, Paul Getty KBE, Billy Graham KBE, J Edgar Hoover KBE, Bob Hope KBE, Angelina Jolie DCMG, Ralph Lauren KBE, André Previn KBE, Ronald Reagan GCB, Dame Marjorie Scardino DBE, and Steven Spielberg KBE.

Indian citizens awarded in the New Year Honours list 2022 include: Himangi Bhardwaj (for services to health services in India and the UK), Mohini Singh (for services to Covid-19 crisis in India), Sumer Adlakha (for services to vulnerable British nationals in India), Nandita Rajput (for services to the British community in Gujarat during the Covid-19 pandemic), Ananda Giri Manchanahalli Shankar (for services to public health in Wales), Uday Vickram Bhosale (for fundraising to NHS charities and supporting the mental health of yoga practitioners during the pandemic), and Venkatraman Perumal (for services to Commonwealth War Graves).

Three Pakistan citizens awarded knighthood are former President Ayub Khan, administrator at the time of independence Mohammad Ikramullah, and Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Abdus Salam.

Indian citizens honoured with knighthood/damehood are sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former bureaucrat Chandrika Prasad Srivastava, industrialist Jamshed Jiji Irani, and Mother Teresa.

Bangladeshi citizens knighted include Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of international development organisation BRAC, in 2010 for services in tackling poverty and empowering the poor in Banngladesh and globally, and barrister Nikhilesh Dutta in 2007 for his contribution to promoting inter-religious harmony.

Rabindranath Tagore, who was knighted in 1915, renounced the honour in 1919 over the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, writing to the then viceroy, Lord Chelmsford: “The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.”

The only Indian or Asian awarded in the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) is economist Amartya Sen.

The Order comprises the Queen and 65 members, most of whom are British citizens, such as J K Rowling, David Attenborough, Paul McCartney, George Osborne and Elton John. Besides Sen, current members of the Order include three Canadians: writer Margaret Atwood, academic Margaret MacMillan, former diplomat John de Chastelain; and opera singer from New Zealand Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Individuals from Asia who refused or renounced honours include Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who said in 1925: “I prefer to be plain Mr Jinnah”; former Pakistan Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin; trade union leader Narayan Malhar Joshi; Maharajkumar of Vizianagram; and parliamentarian CP Ramaswami Iyer.

Two West Indian cricketers awarded British honours include Gary Sobers (knighthood in 1975) and Viv Richards (OBE in 1994).

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