June 27, 2012
Name the odd one out: impressionist Rory Bremner, pop star Gary Barlow, comedienne Dawn French and painter LS Lowry? The answer is Gary Barlow. He accepted an honour from the queen while the others all refused.
Apparently LS Lowry holds the record, turning down an honour on five different occasions.
So the question is, if the letter from the honours committee dropped on your doormat would you accept? After all, isn't rejection just being churlish?
Gary Barlow has been in the wrong sort of news recently. Awarded an OBE earlier this year, he said he was thrilled. 'Growing up I never dreamt that one day I'd be getting one myself. I enjoy every minute of the work I do, with a lot of it being a reward in itself so for somebody to decide I should get recognised for that is just amazing.'
But we've since discovered that his work is not quite enough in terms of reward - because he's also used a tax scheme that leaves him paying only 1% income tax. How does the British Empire feel about that?
Of course for author JG Ballard, another of the honours 'refuseniks', the empire and the queen was the problem. 'Thousands of medals are given out in the name of a non-existent empire,' he said. 'It makes us look a laughing stock and encourages deference to the crown.'
But when film director Ken Loach said no to an OBE in 1977, it had less to do with the queen and more to do with the other winners: 'It's not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who've got one.'
Rory Bremner turned down an OBE for professional reasons. As Alistair Campbell reveals in his book 'Burden of Power,' 'His view was that even if the offer was not made in the hope of taming his comedy, if even one person watching him perform felt it did, it was not a risk worth taking.'
My main issue with the honours system is that it rewards the fortunate who have already been rewarded. I'm delighted Gary Barlow can write songs and I happily sing along to them in the bath. But even without his tax avoidance schemes, he's been very amply paid. As Jesus could see a long time ago, it is the way of all flesh: 'To those who have, more shall be given.'
Occasionally of course the awards filter down to local communities and an MBE is offered to some local stalwart. But is anyone really helped by this? Those who are psychologically well are happy with the life they're given and the love they're able to show. Only the disturbed or the sad could enjoy being set apart from others in this way; and only the desperate could lust after such affirmation.
The chances are remote. But if the letter came my way, I would feel a moment of pride, laugh at the absurdity and then politely say 'no'.
Posted by Mr Bojangles at June 27, 2012 08:54 AM