Bill Bryson wouldn’t accept an honour from the Queen: “there’s a tendency for it to make people stop trying”

The travel writer has said that he would think about declining the award were it offered because "it rewards people in a way that, very often, they feel that’s all they have to do"

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Bill Bryson has said that he would refuse an honour from the Queen because getting the award often makes people complacent.

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When asked at the Cheltenham Literature Festival whether he would accept a spot on the honours list, he said, “no, I don’t think I would now. I would think twice about it because my own feeling is that it rewards people in a way that, very often, they feel that’s all they have to do, that they don’t have to do anything more.” 

The travel writer, who criticises the honours system in his new book, The Road to Little Dribbling, said that he had grown more disillusioned with it since being chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2011, during which time he started several campaigns with other chancellors, including one to encourage people to sign up to the National Organ Donor register.

“I would write an individual letter to each chancellor — about 100 of them — asking if they would join this campaign. And what I found was a number did respond very warmly. Neil Kinnock [former Labour Party leader] wrote back with a really nice letter and he was all on board with this campaign, as did a lot of people like that who had been public figures and worked their way up.

“But quite a number of others didn’t respond at all or responded like ‘this isn’t anything to do with what interests me, with what I do’ and I had a strong feeling from that that they get to a certain point of reward and think ‘I’ve done it, why should I do anything more now? They can’t give me any more peerages so I’ll just stop here.’

“I think theres a tendency for that to happen. I know lots of people in the House of Lords — some because of inheritance, some because of appointment – who deserve it, but I just think there’s a tendency for it to make people just stop trying.”

American-born Bryson also added that he was being “completely hypocritical” because in 2006 he was made an honorary OBE – before becoming a British citizen last year – for his contribution to literature.

But in the witty style which has brought him such huge success, Bryson qualified this with a simple explanation:

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“As I say in the book I always put vanity in front of principle…”