6 Celebrities Who Received Knighthoods and Damehoods

Celebrities from Ian McKellen to Julie Andrews hold knighthoods and damehoods—among the highest forms of honors that the UK can bestow upon any individual. 

Most people have heard the titles “Sir” or “Dame” attached to the names of famous people, including celebrities. For those not in the know, these honorifics carry a great deal of significance within the UK, and even internationally. The people who hold knighthoods and damehoods follow a tradition that traces back to centuries, and remains relevant in this day and age, just in a slightly different way. 

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Modern-day knights and dames aren’t aristocrats, nor do they fight dragons, ride horses, or swing swords. Instead, they’re recipients of two of the country’s highest honors (which monarchs of the British royal family bestow themselves) for significant contributions they’ve made in their respective fields. The damehood is essentially the equivalent of a knighthood, but for women recipients. 

“A knighthood cannot be bought and it carries no military obligations to the Sovereign,” writes the British Royal Family’s official website. “While in past centuries knighthoods used to be awarded solely for military merit, today they also recognise significant contributions to national life. Recipients range from actors to scientists, and from school head teachers to industrialists.”

So yes, celebrities or famous faces in the performing arts can and have received this honor; here just some notable names on the list: 

Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen is perhaps one of the most widely-loved and accomplished performers out there. The English actor has starred in a long list of films and theater productions, including The Hobbit trilogy, the X-Men movies, 1982’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, and 2015’s The Dresser, and 2018’s King Lear (the latter two of which he stars alongside fellow knight, Sir Anthony Hopkins). 

Sir Ian Mckellen
Sir Ian Mckellen/Photo via Instagram @ianmckellen

Having come out in 1988, McKellen is a proud member of the queer community and uses his platform to remain vocal about LGBTQ+ rights. A cultural icon in every sense of the word, the 84-year-old received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1991, according to Jason Chester of Daily Mail

Anthony Hopkins

Much like his contemporary McKellen, Hopkins is a cultural icon in the UK and beyond, having starred in many critically-acclaimed films, shows, and theater productions. These include the ever-famous thriller The Silence of the Lambs (which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor in 1992), The Father (where he also won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2021), The Remains of the Day, and The Two Popes, among many others. 

Sir Anthony Hopkins
Sir Anthony Hopkins/Photo via Instagram @anthonyhopkins

Hopkins received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1993 for his contributions to the performing arts, reports CBS News. However, while he still maintains the title, he’s been a US citizen for decades, and during his US pledge of allegiance, stated: “I further renounce the title of nobility to which I have heretofore belonged,” according to a 2000 article from The Guardian

His spokeswoman Catherine Olim clarified this shortly after, stating that Hopkins holds a dual-citizenship, and didn’t renounce his British citizenship, adds CBS News. Either way, it’s hard not to attach the grand title to a talent who has certainly earned it. 

Judi Dench

Look at almost any great British film, and chances are, Judi Dench is in it. Take the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, or 1985’s A Room with a View. These are just a few of the works in Dench’s repertoire, which also contains James Bond movies, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and too many amazing period films to count. 

Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench/Photo from The National Churches Trust via Wikimedia Commons

As with many of the great English performers, Dench does it all for the love of her craft. It’s something one can truly see in a 2023 interview with Graham Norton, where she stunned the crowd as she recited a Shakespeare sonnet by memory. So it comes as no surprise that she received a damehood in 1988 from Queen Elizabeth II, as Alexandra Del Rosario reports for Los Angeles Times

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews may not be royalty in real life—though she’ll always be the Queen of Genovia to many—the actress certainly has a seal of approval from the British Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed a damehood to Andrews in 2000, according to First for Women magazine. 

Dame Julie Andrews
Dame Julie Andrews/Photo by Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons

This was an inevitability, given how Andrews has taken on some of the most memorable film and theater roles out there, namely 1964’s Mary Poppins, 1965’s The Sound of Music, 1982’s Victor/Victoria, the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, and the beloved Princess Diaries duology. 

Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas

Though the last pair of celebrities haven’t actually received their knighthood and damehood yet, they’ve certainly made waves in the film industry with the landslide success of the Oscar-winning Oppenheimer. These are none other than filmmaker Christopher Nolan and producer Emma Thomas, the power couple responsible for other critically-acclaimed films like Interstellar, Dunkirk, Inception, and of course, the famous Batman trilogy. 

Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas will soon be receiving a knighthood and damehood, respectively
Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas will soon be receiving a knighthood and damehood, respectively/Photo by sbclick via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of March, BBC broke the news that the pair would be receiving the royal honors for their services to film. This comes from a list of honors from the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, adds AP News. Though the reigning monarch usually bestows the honor on recipients, it’s uncertain when or whether King Charles III will be able to do so, as he has taken a break from his royal duties to undergo cancer treatment. 

Nevertheless, Nolan and Thomas will soon be the newest additions to a list of greats, which is another feather to add to their already impressive caps. 

Banner photo featuring Jane Seymour (Constanze Mozart) and Ian McKellen (Antonio Salieri) in Amadeus on Broadway (1980–1981) via Wikimedia Commons.

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