Paul McCartney to be knighted – announcement

Tuesday, December 31, 1996

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On this day, it was announced that Paul McCartney was appointed Knight Bachelor, as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year Honours’ list. The ceremony would be held on March 11, 1997. From Wikipedia:

The New Year Honours 1997 were appointments by most of the Commonwealth realms of Queen Elizabeth II to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries, and honorary ones to citizens of other countries. They were announced on 31 December 1996, to celebrate the year passed and mark the beginning of 1997 in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Cook Islands, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Christopher and Nevis.

It is a fantastic honour, and I am very gratefully receiving it on behalf of all the people of Liverpool and the other Beatles – without whom it would not have been possible. So I hope I can be worthy of it. I would also like to thank my wife and kids and wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Paul McCartney – Video message recorded at LIPA in the middle of December (according to The Beatles Monthly N°250, February 1997)

Geoff Baker, Paul McCartney’s publicist, from Club Sandwich N°81, Spring 1997:

The normal heart rate for an average resting male adult is 72 beats per minute. My normal heart rate is 48 beats per minute. This is not exceptional; many athletes achieve this. However, it is relatively unusual to find such a low heart rate in one whose athleticism stretches just to the exercise of lighting three packs of Marlboro per day.

Anyway, the advantage of a low heart rate – the doctors say – is that it means the heart can cope with unbelievable degrees of stress, excitement or surprise.

Which is good, because at 11.20 in the morning of 30 December 1996 my heart rate achieved an all-time best of approximately 377 beats per minute.

Monday 30 December 1996 was one of winter’s prettier days in England. The overnight frost still lay in the fields, sparkling in the mid-morning sun as I drove back home from the visits to friends and family that Christmas-time makes obligatory. Wary of black ice on the roads, I took my time, musing all the while of New Year Resolutions that, this time, we’d really make the pieces fit.

On getting home, I made coffee, had a cigarette, kicked off my shoes and mooched about the place, opening cards that’d come too late, had another cigarette, took another look at the sweater my grandmother had knitted and decided that maybe it would be OK to wear – on a dark night, inside a box, at the bottom of a deep pit.

It was a nice, calm day. King Curtis played on the stereo. Life was sort of creamy dreamy.

Then, at 11.20am, the phone rang.

“It’s the Press Association…” (Oh no…)

“It’s about Sir Paul…” WHAT?

“It’s about the knighthood…” Er, yes?

“Well done, eh? Bloody good choice. Can you get any quotes from him?”

Him? King Curtis was now playing “got trouble in mind” and my mind was racing, reeling. Hang on, hang on. Calm down. Deep breaths, what the BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON? This news is embargoed. By Buckingham Palace! You can’t go around phoning me about this. This is top secret. If you break the embargo – and this story – we’ll all go to The Tower. It’ll be beheadings all round. At least. So stay calm. Say nothing.

Sorry, what did you say?

“It’s about Paul’s – or Sir Paul’s I should say – knighthood. We need some comment.”

Umm, er, look, between you and me (I was now hissing), this story isn’t meant to break until tomorrow. We’re not supposed to mention this. We shouldn’t even be talking about this. This conversation shouldn’t be happening until tomorrow.

“Yeah, I know. We thought that too. They announce it on New Year’s Eve and we publish on New Year’s Day, it’s the same every year. But the Palace has brought it forward…”


“The news breaks publicly at one minute after midnight.”

Yes, tomorrow’s midnight.

“Not this time, apparently. Tonight’s midnight.”

There is a word for how I felt at this moment. It begins with a loud capital F and people in towns 20 miles away probably heard me yell it. What? No, I haven’t got a press release. I was going to write the press release this afternoon. Yes, I know I’d better bloody hurry. What? No, they’re away. Really. What? No, I don’t know where. What? Yes, yes, of course, as soon as I’ve written it. Yes, I promise, just let me get off the phone and write it!

The average-to-good touch-typist can write at 60-100 words per minute. Being a two-fingered typist I usually hit in at around 40 words. On this day I was pushing 90.

Paul McCartney has been knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in the New Year’s Honours Li…

RING. Hello?

“Mr Baker? This is The Associated Press…”

Good. What’s your fax … st. In accepting the knighthood, Paul, … number? Yeah. Yeah. Right. Yes. Yes, it is brilliant news … who is on holiday abroad, paid tribute to … what’s that tapping noise? That’s me typing the press release as we speak … the Beatles and the people of… Yes of course I’ll fax it, as soon as I’ve finished it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, of course he’s chuffed … his home town of Liverpool. He said “It’s a fantastic honour and … No, he’s away. Yes, I’ll fax it in a minute. No, he really is away … “/ am very gratefully receiving it on” … sorry, I’ve got to go because I’m getting another call. I’ll call you back.

RING. “Hi, this is Reuters News Agency.”

Yes, great news isn’t it. I’m thrilled. Of course he is too … “behalf of all the people of Liverpool and the other Beatles, without whom” … No, I’m still writing it. Yeah. Yep. What? Fifty-four … “it wouldn’t have been” … What? In June. No, the 18th … “possible” … No, no, he doesn’t look it. Yeah, it must be being veggie … “So I hope” … Being veggie, vegetarian. Never mind. It’s in the press release. I’ll phone you back. … “I can be worthy of it. I would also” …

RING. “Hello, this is BBC Radio 1.” Hello … “like to thank my wife and kids” … What? No, he can’t do a phone-in. He’s not here. No, I don’t know where he is – hang on a minute, I’ve got another call. Hello?

“This is ITN. Can we film a quick piece with Sir Paul?”

… “and wish everyone a happy new year” … No, sorry, he’s away. Hang on, I’ve got another call. Wait there. Hello?

“This is BBC Radio 5 Live.” Oh, can you wait a moment please? Hello, ITN? Look, he’s already made a speech on video tape. I’ve got it. Yes, I am bringing it to London, just as soon as I’m off the phone. Hang on, I’ve got another call. Hello?

“It’s Radio 1 still. Can we perhaps phone wherever he is?”

Hang on. Hello?

“This is the Daily Mail newsdesk.” Hang on. Hello?

“Geoff, it’s the Westwood One Radio Network calling from America.”

Hang on. Hello?

“Hello, this is Fuji TV calling from Tokyo.”

Hang on. Hello? “Hello. It’s CBS Radio News.”

You get the idea. For the next 20 minutes the calls came from Good Morning America, Independent Radio News, The Times, The Sun, The Mirror, BBC-TV, GMTV, BBC Radios 2, 4 and 5 Live (again), CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX, Le Figaro, MJI Broadcasting of New York. You name them, they phoned. I ran out the door, driving at absurd speeds to London with video copies of the acceptance speech that, cannily, Sir Paul had taped before he left England and which the world and its production assistant needed now. Now. Now. Now. (Even more cannily, Paul had not specifically revealed in his speech exactly which honour he was receiving, so that those in on the tape’s making and duplication could not be privy to the secret.)

The next morning went like this: “It’s 5am, Greenwich Mean Time. This is the BBC World Service and here is the main news. Paul McCartney has been knighted in the New Year’s Hono…”

“It’s six o’clock and here is the news. Paul McCartney has been knigh…” “Good morning. The time is half past six and you’re listening to the Today show on BBC Radio 4. The news headlines: Paul McCartney has been…”

“It’s 6.30 and you’re watching GMTV. Former Beatle Paul McCartney…”

“Welcome to BBC Breakfast News. The Beatle Paul McCartney has been knighted in…”

“Here’s the news on the hour on GWR. It’s ‘arise Sir Paul McCartney’…”

Meanwhile, in America, Tom Brokaw was breaking the news on NBC in one of the 236 TV bulletins that carried the story that day.

Back home, the morning’s newspapers arrived with a hefty thud on the doormat. “MCCARTNEY IS KNIGHTED” thundered The Times, “sir macca!” shouted the Daily Mail. “DUB ME do” echoed The Mirror, “yeah, YEAH, YEAH, Fab for Paul as Queen makes him Mac the Knight” headlined the Liverpool Echo, “a HARD day’s knight” yelled the Liverpool Post and a good two dozen other papers. [And you thought the punny headlines in Club Sandwich were bad – ed.]

“YESIRDAY. Four-page Tribute To Sir Macca Inside,” roared The Sun across its front page, its special section including tributes from Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Noel Gallagher, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and a host of other names, plus this Leader comment “What a showstopper of a New Year’s Honours List. It reads like the cast of a TV spectacular. And no one deserves to be top of the bill more than Sir Paul McCartney.”

“No one deserves it more.” Those were the words I heard over and over and over again from the press, TV and radio that New Year’s Monday and Tuesday. My bank manager phoned and told me the same. (Truly.) So did my Mum. My kid’s teacher said it. The bloke down the village shop said it. I overheard the guard on my train saying it. A taxi driver told me the same. Fans all around the world woke up on New Year’s Eve saying it. The huge media coverage said it. And, when Paul told me the news on the phone, I think those were the only congratulations I’d said too.

And I can’t find five other words to say it better.

Geoff Baker, Paul McCartney’s publicist, from Club Sandwitch N°81, Spring 1997

Some reactions :

lt is an excellent day and absolutely deserved by all concerned. Our kid told me a while back that this was going to happen, and so did Roger, so I had to swear that I’d keep my mouth shut. Liverpool people have always had loads of talent. They are always there, and always will be.

Mike McCartney, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°250, February 1997

It’s a great day for Liverpool. This is brilliant news. I’m thrilled for Paul. l wish l could be there to celebrate with him. I’m completely over the moon. lt is the most thrilling start to the New Year that I could have wished for.

Cilla Black, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°250, February 1997

Along with a lot of other people on Merseyside, we are delighted that Paul has been recognised. We have been pushing for him to be honoured for a number of years now. lf there is any other way of honouring him, we would like it to be considered. As an ambassador, he and the Beatles have done an extraordinary amount.

Mark Featherstone-Witty, quoted in The Beatles Monthly N°250, February 1997

Last updated on September 13, 2022

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