Can You Be Named an OBE and Still Be Critical of Empires? Elvis Costello Says Yes.

The musician downplayed the award

Elvis Costello
Recording artist Juanes performs onstage with special guest Elvis Costello at YouTube Theater on October 02, 2021 in Inglewood, California.
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For over a century, the OBE has been among the awards that the British government can bestow upon someone. It stands for “Officer of the Order of the British Empire,” and its roots date back to World War I, when King George V determined a new way to honor people for their efforts related to the conflict. But over the years, a number of high-profile figures (including David Bowie and Michael Sheen) have turned down the OBE or similar awards, owing to concerns over imperialism and the British system of class.

Other recipients, however, have found a way to rectify the two. Among them? Elvis Costello, who was named an OBE in 2019 but has also been critical of imperialism over the years. As a recent article at Ultimate Classic Rock points out, Costello doesn’t necessarily find those two positions to be in conflict.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Costello downplayed the importance of the OBE. “It’s just another bauble in my china cabinet, along with the MTV Video Music award, which no one knows I’ve got, either,” he said.

He went on to elaborate on that, tying his position to his family’s history — including the case of his grandfather, who “died from illness resulting from wounds he got fighting for king and country.”

“My dad [Ross McManus] went in through the tradesman’s entrance to sing at the Buckingham Palace staff ball in 1962,” Costello added. “So, apart from the fact that my mum told me to go and have a laugh, I thought: ‘I’m going in through the front door.’”

He went on to confirm that his overall opinions of empire haven’t changed. “It doesn’t change my view of the idea of empire as ludicrous and hideous,” he added.

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