Elvis Costello, Humbled, Receives OBE at Buckingham Palace

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Elvis Costello receiving his OBE from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace on Feb. 14, 2020 (Photo: PA Images)

Elvis Costello became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, at a ceremony overseen by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace on Feb. 14. The honor, for “Services To Music,” was announced on June 7, 2019, and at the time, in typically biting fashion, the musician offered several self-deprecating remarks as well as some not-so-subtle digs at the British Empire and others.

After the ceremony, however, Costello was humbled. “The experience was very curious and gracious, I have to say. Everybody was very friendly. Among many things I’ve been given, it’s one that somebody decided I deserve and all you can say is ‘thank you.’

“I’ve met many people here who have done very serious work. I fooled around and make music and enjoy my life. Other people have put years and years of their life into something in service of other people. I was very happy to meet some [of these] other people.” (Watch his interview below.)

When he first acknowledged the news that he would be receiving the honor, Costello humorously tried to aim true when he joked that the category of “Services To Music”… “confirms my long held suspicion nobody really listens to the words in songs or the outcome might have been somewhat different.”

The singer-songwriter acknowledged both of his grandfathers, who served in the British Armed Forces during World War I. He added, though: “I can’t say that the future and fortunes offered to such men upon their return home were anything more than an insult to add to their physical, mental and spiritual injuries.

“[Yet] it is in memory of those two British Army soldiers and because my [Mother] told me to do it, that I can proudly accept this award.”

Costello’s complete statement, when he first heard of the award in June 2019:

I am happy to accept this very surprising honour.

I have to admit that my first reaction, upon receiving an “O.H.M.S.” letter was, “Oh no, they’ve finally tumbled me”. For those of you who enjoy irony, I was standing in my dressing room, at the “Queen Elizabeth Theatre” at the time. That’s Vancouver, British Columbia, you know. The pink has stained the map all over the world.

Reading the letter, I thought for a while, then folded the document and slept on the news until the morning when I could place a call to England and speak to my mother, Lillian MacManus.

Lillian is almost the same age as Her Majesty, so I regard myself as immensely fortunate that I am still able to seek her counsel. She suffered a severe stroke last year, just two days before my 64th birthday, but thanks to the prompt attention of an incredible NHS specialist ward and the sustained dedication and kindness of her home care team, she has recovered her wits and words to a truly remarkable degree.

“I began my call by telling my Mam that the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, had put my name forward for an O.B.E.” “But she’s rubbish,” Lillian cut in before I could complete the news. Well, that aside, I said, “Of course, I won’t be accepting the award.”

I didn’t get much further with that statement either. I listened carefully to my mother’s argument that if something is deserved then one must be gracious in acceptance.

So, as a good lad, who likes to do what will make his Mam most proud, I knew that I must put old doubts and enmities aside and muster what little grace I possess.

When I looked down the list of past honorees; those who have accepted and those who have declined for reasons of conviction or cantankerousness, I came to the conclusion that I am, perhaps, closer in spirt to Eric Morecambe than to Harold Pinter, as anyone who has heard me play the piano will attest. Even so, it is hard to receive anything named for the “British Empire”, and all that term embodies, without a pause for reflection.

Both my grandfathers were sent to France in 1914 to fight for King and Country and, I suppose, the Empire too, despite the conflict not really being their family squabble. Jim Ablett ended up spending three years in a P.O.W. camp in Lower Silesia, while Pat McManus was left wounded in a trench, when all he’d started out to do was to play the bugle or the trumpet. Pat was posted “Missing, Presumed Dead” before turning up in a military hospital and upon his recovery, being posted to Imperial India.

I can’t say that the future and fortunes offered to such men upon their return home were anything more than an insult to add to their physical, mental and spiritual injuries. You had to make your own luck then but that’s the way it’s been ever since. One hundred years have passed and the British Empire doesn’t exist any more but our family is still thriving and playing music. So, it is in memory of those two British Army soldiers and because my Mam told me to do it, that I can proudly accept this award.

It would be a lie to pretend that I was brought up to have a great sense of loyalty to the Crown, let alone notions of Empire. I used to think a change might come but when one considers the kind of mediocre entrepreneur who might be foisted upon us as a President, it’s enough to make the most hard-hearted “Republican” long for an ermine stole, a sceptre and an orb.

To be honest, I’m pretty tickled to receive this acknowledgement for my “Services To Music”, as it confirms my long held suspicion nobody really listens to the words in songs or the outcome might have been somewhat different.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters concert tickets are available here and here.

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  1. Dotorimuk
    #1 Dotorimuk 8 June, 2019, 23:56

    You can accept awards without being a d*ck about it. EVERYONE in your industry is part of the hive mind. No need to virtue signal with political cheap shots.

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  2. Gagdad Bob
    #2 Gagdad Bob 9 June, 2019, 16:55

    He is such a clueless, pompous, petty, and pseudo-intellectual jackass, he’s wasting his time in music. Rather, he should be an Ivy League professor.

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