Use of word 'empire' in honours awards is 'icky', says OBE recipient

11 June 2021, 17:24

By Tim Dodd

The use of the word empire in honours awards is 'icky' and in need of 'modernisation', Poppy Jaman OBE has told Shelagh Fogarty.

Her words amid fresh calls to replace ‘empire’ with ‘excellence’ in the UK honours system due to concerns over its imperialist connotations.

The honours system recognises people who have made achievements in public life or committed themselves to serving and helping Britain.

Poppy Jaman was awarded her OBE in January 2018 for services to people with mental health issues.

She began by telling Shelagh: "It's a branding and and it's an inclusion agenda, it's a modernisation agenda. Why are we using the word empire, when the empire no longer exists?

"And actually for some of us, there's another agenda, which is the 'empire' doesn't resonate, it's not all amazing, and actually it's been quite hurtful to many people around the world. It's had some positives, but I think this word puts a hesitation and pause in the celebration of receiving something so amazing.

"I am so proud to be British-Bengali, and receiving the honour and going to the palace was one of the proudest days of my life. But in the lead up to it, I spent three weeks thinking whether I could accept it. And then, everytime it comes up in conversation, I have to always go - but the word Empire."

Shelagh then said: "And looking more closely at the medal. It says around the centrepiece on the CBE 'For God and the Empire'. It feels very turn of the century, as in 19th to 20th century."

Poppy replied: "Yeah, and wording is really important. Organisations spend millions rebranding in order to remain relevant, appropriate, keeping up with the times.

"For me, this is part of our British heritage - the honours system and recognising people in civil society - people that have done amazing things and led on amazing agendas like homelessness, services to women in sports - these are some of my colleagues who've received their honours.

"And all of us when we talk about it are like ugh, there's an ickiness around it."

The honours, which are usually awarded during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, have different ranks, including knight, dame, commander 'of the British Empire' (CBE), officer of the British Empire (OBE), and member of the British Empire (MBE).