More entertainers are being knighted -- A look at what Andrew Lloyd Webber and Anthony Hopkins did to earn the honor

By Lance Gould
Updated July 14, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

First Knight may take place in the mythical Camelot, but when it comes to knightly conduct, Richard Gere’s Lancelot comes close to the real thing: Knights-errant did defend the honor of ladies, God, and the throne. Today knighthood is still the distinguished citizen’s reward for service. But the success of entertainers like Bob Geldof at crashing the gates of peerage has some of the anointed worried. ”We’ve gone a long way downhill,” moans Sir Brian Urquhart, knighted in 1986 for his services to the United Nations.

If so, the late Prime Minister Harold Wilson is evidently to blame. During his tenure in the ’70s, he deemed entertainers and athletes worthy of consideration — some say, in a move to enhance the honor rolls’ marquee (or marquis) value. Since then, discerning observers have noticed the Knight of the British Empire selection process leaning in favor of the entertainment elite. Following Wilson’s directive, the roundtable of knighted celebs has grown to include composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, singer Cliff Richard, and actors Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde, and Anthony Hopkins.

What does it take to become a knight these days? ”The idea is to reward people who have been constructive for Britain,” says Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke’s Peerage. Occasionally a non-Brit, such as America’s Henry Kissinger and Ireland’s Geldof, is honored. But these fly-by-knights cannot use the title ”Sir” (except, perhaps, with waiters). Recently, a report surfaced that Michael Jackson had set his sights on a KBE for his work with children, only to learn that knights never nominate themselves. Brooks-Baker notes, moreover, that Jackson’s tabloid-fodder past would disqualify him anyway: ”Jackson’s personal life is very controversial, and he would make a joke out of knighthood.”

And what about that most knightly of actors, Sean Connery? Why hasn’t he earned the title? ”Connery has been so bellicose and difficult toward the establishment,” Brooks-Baker explains. ”Quite a few people would have to pass into the next world before his way was cleared for knighthood.”