Sir Sam 'too grand by far', Neill says

00:44, Aug 10 2009
Sam Neill
NO SIR: Sam Neill rejected a knighthood because it was was 'just far too grand'.

New Zealand actor Sam Neill says he rejected a knighthood because the idea of a title was "just far too grand, by far".

His views were echoed by other well known figures, such as Maori activist and author Dr Ranginui Walker, who said there was "a certain snobbishness" attached to knighthoods.

Titular honours were abolished by the Labour-led Government in 1999, but Prime Minister John Key announced in March they would be reinstated.

Those made Principal or Distinguished Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit (PCNZM or DCNZM) since 2000 could opt to be known as Sir or Dame, with the titles effective from today.

Of the 85 people invited to take up the titles, Neill and Dr Walker were among the 13 who declined, while Sir Colin Meads, Sir Peter Snell and Dame Jenny Shipley were among those who accepted.

Neill, who starred in films such as The Piano and Jurassic Park, said while he had nothing against the titles, and the alternative system was "somewhat confusing", he would not like to be known as "Sir".


"All modesty aside, I find the idea of a title for myself just too grand at this time of my life," he said. Children's author Joy Cowley, who declined to become a Dame, said she did not want people start treating her differently because of a title.

"I've also got an honorary doctorate and I get embarrassed whenever that comes up on an envelope," she said.

"I don't like anything that separates me from other people – I value my ordinariness."

Potter Len Castle said the reinstatement of the title system did not reflect contemporary New Zealand society.

"I think the change that the prime minister made is a retrograde step and I see in it a regression to the hem of the royal petticoat." Dr Walker said he was also disappointed that DCNZM was not given the credence it deserved.

"I didn't have any qualms about accepting the [DCNZM] because it's a New Zealand award and not tied to mother Britain or our imperial past."

Dr Walker had been scathing of knighthoods because of the wealthy businessmen who got them, such as Sir Michael Fay and Sir Roger Douglas.

"I felt that the knighthood system had been rather denigrated, or degraded," he said in March, when the changes were announced.

But Dame Margaret Shields, a former Labour Cabinet minister, said reintroducing knights and dames was an appropriate way to recognise achievements, in a way the DCNZM could not.

Dame Margaret received her title for her work supporting women's rights.

"One of my jobs was to take honour back to women, so I thought it was important for me to accept this honour.

"There is a feeling that it belongs to the community, not just to the individual."