It’s been a huge week for fans of the phrase ‘Say what you like about the monarchy but…’ However, that is not a prefix that Keith Richards was willing to leverage his cutting opinion with back when his friend and Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger accepted a knighthood in 2003. As ever, the high seas rambler of rock didn’t hold back on what he thought was an act of sinister latent bourgeoisie indulgence.
The frontman was honoured for 40 years of service to popular music, but Richards felt rock and royalty were two separate tenets and never the twain shall meet. “It’s not what the Stones is about is it?” Richards mused. And perhaps the late Queen herself agreed with him on this. She reportedly responded to seeing his name on the honours list with two succinct words: “Not suitable”.
Maybe this isn’t all that surprising, considering that Jagger himself had previously labelled her highness the “chief witch”. Despite her questioning the suitability of the former proto-punk rocker, his knighthood was set to go ahead. However, the Queen swerved the ceremony citing surgery as the reason, but rumours were abound that she passed the duties onto Prince Charles because she couldn’t bring herself to embrace the new ‘Cool Britannia’ zeitgeist in the early noughties era.
Richards might have seen this snub as further reason to reject the reward and stand by the Robert Smith motto: “How dare they presume that they could give me an honour. I’m much better than them, they’ve never done anything, they’re fucking idiots.” In fact, he might have taken that stance even further given his history with the authorities. “I thought it was ludicrous to take one of those gongs from the establishment when they did their very best to throw us in jail and kill us at one time,” he opined.
Beyond that, the snarling seafaring guitarist also saw the acceptance as simply not very rock ‘n’ roll, comically adding: “I don’t want to step on stage with someone wearing a fucking coronet and sporting the old ermine.”
Even when the dust settled on the royal debacle, Richards was still rallying against it years later. “I was surprised actually more than whether I was happy or unhappy. This is a guy who went to the London School of Economics for Christ’s sake. This is not one for the hierarchy. But anyway,” he said with a cackle, “I thought he should hang out for a peerage. A damn knighthood? I thought that was a cheap shot… Anyway, I wouldn’t let that family near me with a sharp stick never mind a sword!”
However, Jagger thought that the whole thing pertained merely to pettiness. “No, I mean he’s not a happy person. If you can’t understand that, you can’t understand anything. He’s not happy,” he said of his old pal. And maybe that is the case. After all, criticising his Knighthood is not all that Richards has hurled at Jagger. He also poked fun at his crown jewels when he said, “Marianne Faithfull had no fun with his tiny todger. I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls- but it doesn’t quite fill the gap.” Perhaps Sir had to resort to playing Sticky Fingers?