Michael Sheen has risked a backlash after revealing that he handed back his OBE years after receiving it from the Queen.
The actor said he made the controversial move to avoid looking a hypocrite before giving a lecture on the history of his native Wales – including ‘past wrongs’ committed by England.
And he called for the tradition of giving the heir to the throne the title of Prince of Wales to be scrapped when Charles becomes king, saying it was a ‘humiliation’ for the Welsh.
The 51-year-old, whose acclaimed roles have included Tony Blair, football boss Brian Clough and broadcaster David Frost, received the honour from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2009. But he handed it back after researching Welsh history while preparing to give the lecture to students in 2017.
Actor Michael Sheen receives an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II during investitures at Buckingham Palace in 2009. He gave it back in 2017, it was revealed today
The actor has a daughter aged one with girlfriend Anna Lundberg (pictured together, January 2020) and a daughter called Lily with ex-girlfriend Kate Beckinsale (together right in 2001)
He said he realised it would be hypocritical for him to discuss the ‘relationship between Wales and the British state’ while still having the OBE. Sheen said reading up on the history of Wales for the annual Raymond Williams lecture – named after a marxist academic – had opened his eyes to issues still ‘resonant’ today.
He added: ‘In my research to do that lecture I learnt a lot about Welsh history. I’m still standing at the foothills of an understanding of all that, but that was a crash course.
By the time I’d finished writing that lecture, I remember sitting there going, ‘Well, I have a choice. I either don’t give this lecture and hold on to my OBE or I give this lecture and I have to give my OBE back’.
‘I wanted to still give the lecture so I gave my OBE back.’
He said he told the Palace at the time that he did not mean to be rude and felt ‘incredibly honoured’ to have received it back in 2009.
‘I said, ‘I mean absolutely no disrespect by doing this, I don’t want to cause a big fuss about it’,’ he told journalist Owen Jones.
Father-of-two Sheen said the OBE had ‘meant a lot to me and my family’ and had ‘helped’ him in lots of ways. He added: ‘People go, ‘Why are you getting so upset about things that happened hundreds of years ago?’ But it’s true, it still has a power here.’
Sheen said the title Prince of Wales, which William is due to inherit when Charles becomes king, was first given to an Englishman by King Edward I in 1301 to ‘keep down the Welsh rebellion’.
He added that a recent row after a bridge over the River Severn between England and Wales was renamed the Prince of Wales crossing showed how important it still was. ‘These things have power,’ he said. ‘The idea of the Prince of Wales and that being an Englishman and the history of that.’
Prince Charles with Alesha Dixon and Michael Sheen in March 2009. Mr Sheen believes that Charles should be the last Prince of Wales
The actor said the Queen was a ‘remarkable person who’s done exemplary service to the country’. But he said there should be a ‘break’ in the tradition of awarding the title to the heir to the throne following her death.
‘I’m asking for no more or less than to make a break there – put some things that have been wrongs of the past right,’ he said. ‘There’s an opportunity to do that at that point.’ He said the monarchy should not carry on the ‘humiliation’ to Wales because of ‘habit’.
Sheen said he did not want to ‘publicise’ his decision to hand back his OBE at the time, but added: ‘If someone asks me about it I would be transparent and no one has ever asked me.’
The actor has a daughter aged one with girlfriend Anna Lundberg and a daughter called Lily with ex-girlfriend Kate Beckinsale. His other exes include American comic Sarah Silverman and actress Rachel McAdams.
Others who have returned or rejected honours include John Lennon, who was awarded an MBE in 1965 but returned it in protest at Britain’s foreign policy and the Vietnam War. Alan Bennett turned down a CBE in 1988 and rejected a knighthood in 1996 as it wouldn’t ‘suit’ him.
The actor’s OBE decision was prompted by researching the history of his native Wales and its relationship with the British state for his 2017 Raymond Williams lecture.
In the lecture he called for Welsh Independence, saying: ‘Who speaks for Wales?Nobody’, adding: ‘Wales has suffered and is suffering acute economic, political, and cultural strains, and by the fact of history has to try and resolve them in a world of crude power relationships and distant parliaments’.
He also said that Wales’ history is 1,500 years of outside interference.
‘It is the story of a nation that never was, struggling to be. The story of a people continually shocked and shaped and acted upon from outside.
‘From the Romans to the Anglo-Saxons to the Normans, they all came to fracture us, to control us, to subdue us. To bend us to their will. They built their roads, they built their walls, they built their castles.
‘They changed our language, they changed our faith, they changed our sense of ourselves. And all the while, we tried to live in the shadow of their powers’.
Michael Sheen has previously revealed his relationship with Sarah Silverman indirectly ended because of Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency.
In the lecture he argued that Wales had voted to leave the EU because of a slanted view fed to them from England.
He said: ‘It was in the face of being disconnected from its own history, and denied opportunity to explore its own modern identity in the context of that history. The dragon had no voice so it spoke through the mouth of St George.
‘When it comes to the Brexit vote – ‘For Wales – see England. That, infamously, was all that was written as the entry for Wales in the 1888 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. ‘For Wales – see England.’