What’s the difference between OBE, MBE, CBE and Knighthood?

Special honours are awarded twice a year, to recognise outstanding achievements, but what is the difference between OBE vs MBE vs CBE?

knighthood cbe obe mbe

by Louella Berryman |

The British honours system rewards high profile, celebrated people with Honours, Decorations and Medals for their achievements. From Hollywood film stars like Kate Winslet to Second World War veteran, Sir Captain Tom Moore, these honours can be awarded to anyone for their outstanding achievements.

They are awarded twice a year by the Queen, a few days before the end of the year, and also around the Queen's state birthday in June, in the Queen's birthday honours list. The recipients are announced officially in The Gazette.

Kate Winslet
© JOHN STILLWELL/AFP via Getty Images

Different awards are received depending on the person's achievements. These are the awards in order of precedence:

GBE, KBE or DBE (Knight or Dame) - Knight or Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Both of these ranks allow the recipient to use Sir (for men) or Dame (for women) before their forename. Twiggy is a famous Dame and so is Elizabeth Taylor.

CBE - Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Kate Winslet has a CBE.

OBE - Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Vivienne Westwood has an OBE.

MBE - Member of the Order of the British Empire. Adele has an MBE.

BEM - The British Empire Medal is awarded for military service.

Companion of Honour - This is given to people who have made a significant contribution to the arts, science, medicine or the government over a long period of time. Sir David Attenborough has one of these and so does Judi Dench.

What is the Order of the British Empire?

Jim-Carter
©Getty

The British honours system has various different orders, but the Order of the British Empire was created in 1917 by George V during WWI to honour the achievements of those on the front line.

The awards were first given to members of the armed forces, but now are given out to members of the public too.

What is an MBE?

An MBE is awarded to someone for having a "major local role in any activity, including people whose work has made them known nationally in their chosen area." Notable MBE winners include The Great British Bake Off's Nadiya Hussain, Adele, all of the Beatles, and TV chef Ainsley Harriott.

What is an OBE?

An OBE is awarded to someone for "outstanding achievement or service to the community. This will have had a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others." Vivienne Westwood, actress Kiera Knightly, actor Eddie Redmayne, actress Naomie Harris, Downton Abbey's Jim Carter, actor Ewan McGregor, both David and Victoria Beckham and James Corden are all celebrities who have been given this honour.

What is a CBE?

A CBE is given to someone who has a "prominent but lesser role at national level, or a leading role at regional level. You can also get one for a distinguished, innovative contribution to any area." Celebrities with CBE awards include Benedict Cumberbatch, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zita-Jones, Joan Collins and Helena Bonham Carter.

Anyone can nominate someone for an honour on the gov.uk website.

What is a knighthood?

julie andrews award
©getty

While a CBE, OBE and MBE are some of the top ranking honours, only the top two ranks can use the title "Sir" or "Dame". People awarded a GBE, KBE or DBE can use these titles.

The very top rank in the Order is a GBE - a Knight or Dame Grand Cross - but these are very rare. Since 2000, only 16 have been given out. Actress Emma Thompson is amongst the recipients who have received an award as well as Michael Caine, Julie Andrews and Rod Stewart,

Only British people can be made a Sir or a Dame, but foreigners can be given an honorary KBE/DBE. An example of this is fashion designer, Ralph Lauren, Bill Gates and also, Angelina Jolie.

These are awarded to those who have made a major contribution in any activity, usually at a national level. They are traditionally presented using a touch of the sword by the King or Queen.

Sir David Attenborough awarded second knighthood

Sir David Attenborough has recently been awarded a second knighthood for his services to television broadcasting and conservation. He was first knighted back in 1985, but he's now being appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael And St George which is a much higher accolade.

What does an honour entitle you to?

Those selected for an honour will be invited to attend an "investiture" ceremony where the Queen, or sometimes another member of the Royal family such as Prince Charles, Prince William or Princess Anne, will award them with their insignia - a medal - of the order.

This usually takes place shortly after the honours list is announced, but recipients can start using their new title or letters after their name as soon as the awards are announced.

Those with honours can also have a their award added to their coat of arms showing their membership of the order.

New Years Honours 2022

This year saw actresses Joanna Lumley and Vanessa Redgrave become Dames. "It was an extraordinary shock," Joanna told BBC News. "I put my head in my hands and sobbed like a baby.

James Bond actor Daniel Craig has been made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Financial guru Martin Lewis was appointed CBE for services to broadcasting and consumer rights while EastEnders' June Brown (Dot Cotton) and William Roache (Ken Barlow) in Coronation Street - have been appointed OBEs, both for services to drama and charity.

June said "It is a great honour and I would like to thank Her Majesty, and all those involved in my recommendation."

Presenter and activist Katie Piper has been appointed OBE for services to charity and victims of burns and other disfigurement injuries and Good Morning Britain presenter Kate Garraway has been appointed MBE for services to broadcasting, journalism and charity.

Has anyone refused an honour?

Notable people who have refused an honour include David Bowie, Nigella Lawson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and John Lennon, who sent his MBE back in 1969 to protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigerian civil war.

We take a look back at some of the Queen's greatest moments from over the years

The Queen

Perhaps the most special part about receiving an honour from the Queen is meeting the woman herself.

Our Queen is an icon, hero, grandmother and heart of our nation. As the longest reigning monarch, she continues to be one of the most inspirational people in the world. Her warmth, wisdom and charm have earnt her global respect and even at the age of 94 she continues to be a working monarch on the world stage.

Read more about the Queen's finest moments here.

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