Don't do it, Wiggo!
Bradley Wiggins, heroic winner of the Tour de France, Olympic gold medallist and BBC sports personality of the year, with sideburns that help mark him out from the crowd, is reported to have accepted a knighthood. My message to him is simple: don’t do it Wiggo!
Don’t let us see a picture of you kneeling before the Queen to become Sir Bradley. Do what Olympic opening ceremony creator Danny Boyle has done and say “No”.
You were brought up by your mum in a small flat in Kilburn, north London. Your absent father’s passion for cycling rubbed off on you and the legendary Herne Hill velodrome in south London, was where you started out.
You became popular through your common touch, your rapport with ordinary people. So much so that the French took you to their hearts, especially when you made jokes in their language.
So why join the establishment? Why join the elite? Why help out the ConDem government, which is recommending you to Buckingham Palace? As US baseball fans might respond, “say it ain’t so, Wiggo”.
By turning a knighthood down you would be in the illustrious company of others who have rejected “honours”, which still include ludicrous anachronisms like the Order of the British Empire or the Colonial Police and Fire Service Medal.
Children’s author Roald Dahl and artist Lucien Freud are among those who have turned down honours. Painters Francis Bacon and LS Lowry (five times), the sculptor Henry Moore and novelist Aldous Huxley also said no.
Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest novelists of all time, turned down a knighthood in 1923 shortly before his death.
JG Ballard, the author of Empire of the Sun, turned down a CBE in 2003, saying:
It's the whole climate of deference to the monarch and everything else it represents. They just seem to perpetuate the image of Britain as too much pomp and not enough circumstance.
Poet Benjamin Zephaniah said he was surprised to be offered an OBE in 2003, explaining:
Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire’; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality.
Late in 1969, John Lennon returned an MBE he had been awarded in 1965, with a letter saying:
Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon.
Listen, Wiggo. A knighthood is just flim-flam, a deception that is designed to incorporate you into the establishment. If you want to do some good – and I’m sure you do – then get involved in the campaigns to save school sport from death by a thousand cuts.
For example, the umbrella group Sport and Recreation Alliance has said the proposed new English baccalaureate would downgrade sport in schools and add to a "worrying" decline in the number of teenagers studying PE at secondary school.
The number of school students taking PE at GCSE level has dropped by a third in the last four years. Alliance chairman Andy Reed is worried that the new qualification will “marginalise sport and creative subjects”.
So Wiggo, instead of accepting the embrace of an institution you really don’t like at all, tell your story about how you kicked alcohol to become a great cyclist, how you learned to climb mountains so you could win the Tour de France, how you learned to speak French fluently.
There are many ways to inspire a new generation – taking a knighthood isn’t one of them!
18 December 2012