Let there be no doubt; Angelina Jolie is a remarkable campaigner and philanthropist who has given her time, face and money to causes – specifically the attempt to stamp out sexual violence in warzones – which many celebrities wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.
For this she has been rightly hailed. She is a person trying to use her massive influence to do a great deal of good.
And what follows is in no way a criticism of her.
But, at the risk of making myself unpopular, wishing (or even managing) to do good works on a global scale doesn’t justify Angelina Jolie being made a dame by the Queen yesterday, on the orders of the former foreign secretary William Hague, for ‘services to UK foreign policy’.
Damehoods – the title is the female equivalent of a knighthood – are supposed to be specifically reserved to reward public service and/or great achievement in the cause of the United Kingdom. The Crown’s website says they are to recognise significant contributions to national life.
99% of the time, they are awarded to British or Commonwealth citizens, but they can once in a blue moon be awarded to foreigners on an ‘honorary’ basis (the honorary nature of the honor means Angelina will not in fact have the right to be addressed as ‘Dame Angelina’ in the UK)
Irishman Bob Geldof was famously made an honorary knight for his work for Live Aid. Even though this was a massive and unparalleled achievement, and the campaign indisputably brought great credit on Britain, it was still a somewhat controversial award at the time, even though Sir Bob lives and works in Britain.
The announcement that Jolie would be made a dame was made during the summer, when Jolie was included on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. But on Friday, she attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace and was granted a private audience by the Queen.
The resulting pictures of Angelina, dipping her head as she receives the Sovereign's benediction, have gone around the world.
And some cynics like me can't help wondering if publicity was the British government's principal intention when nominating her for the honor.
Her citation at the time the award was announced said that the award was for her campaigning work fighting sexual violence and for “services to UK foreign policy”.
Inquiries by the Royalist to the UK Foreign Office, which recommended Jolie for the award, reveal that Jolie is being honored for co-founding the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) along with former U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague in 2012.
The Foreign Office refuted suggestions that the award was only being made because of Jolie’s celebrity, saying, “The award is made entirely on merit. It entirely reflects the work she has done.”
The PVSI aims to increase internationally prosecutions for sexual violence and support countries in preventing and responding to the global issue.
In 2013, Jolie attended a PSVI conference with Hague, bringing together representatives for 125 countries, eight UN agencies, and 900 experts and survivors from around the world.
Undoubtedly Jolie’s work with Hague has served to raise awareness of sexual violence as a global issue.
And if one warzone rape can be prevented thanks to Angelina’s work, then she is to be saluted.
The work she has done is noble and of global importance. No one disputes that. But a damehood is not and never has been a reward for good intentions. Nor should it be dished out in thanks for sprinkling a little stardust on William Hague's shoulder.
Honors are awarded for results and achievements that, frankly, make the UK look good, and add to the life of the nation, be that sailing around the world or organising the London Olympics.
“To receive an honor related to foreign policy means a great deal to me, as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to,” Jolie said in a statement at the time the award was announced. “Working on PVSI and with survivors of rape is an honor in itself. I know that succeeding in our goals will take a lifetime, and I am dedicated to it for all of mine.”
My beef is not with Jolie, whom I congratulate on her work, and admire as human being simply trying to do a little bit of good.
But that British government should have allowed our unique honors system to fall so pathetically in hock to celebrity cheapens it imeasurably.