Celebrated singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading joked that she has been “levelled up” after being made a CBE, and said she does not understand those who criticise the honours system.
Armatrading, known for a string of popular records in the 1970s and ’80s, acknowledged that some recipients have an issue with the word “Empire” associated with the honours, and its connotations with colonialism.
But she described her CBE as “fantastic”, although she jokingly added: “Commander of British Excellence – that works for me; Empire doesn’t come into it”.
The musician has been a prolific artist since the release of her 1972 debut, Whatever’s For Us, releasing more than 20 studio albums and notching up memorable songs like Love And Affection and Drop The Pilot.
Speaking after the Windsor Castle investiture ceremony hosted by the Princess Royal, Armatrading said: “It’s actually fantastic to receive this – I was given an MBE in 2001 and that was a shock but this is a double shock because I didn’t really expect to get ‘levelled up’, as the Government says.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – every country awards its citizens some kind of an appreciation thing which says ‘This is what we think of what you’ve been doing, have this’, and I don’t understand people who think that’s a problem.
“We know that the Empire doesn’t exist, we know that, that’s all gone, it doesn’t exist, it used to. We all know that wasn’t quite the right thing to do, we all know that, but that doesn’t mean the country can’t reward its citizens still.
“And eventually they will come up with something that takes away the Empire name because, I think, it’s only because they can’t come up with what should happen (next), and, you know, everyone’s got an opinion about what that should be, that’s why it can’t be settled.”
Armatrading was made a CBE for services to music, charity and equal rights, recognising her recording career spanning almost five decades and her work as a trustee of both the Open University and the Prince’s Trust and serving as president of the Women of the Year Lunches from 2005 and 2010.
She said that, despite the huge changes in the music industry since she started in the early 1970s, creative talent will always come to the fore.
“I know we get some homogenised stuff but there will always be people who are incredibly talented and spontaneous and not necessarily following the cookie-cutter kind of system.
“There will always be big people who have talent, you won’t be able to stop that.”
Armatrading, 70, was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and moved at the age of seven to Brookfields, then a district of Birmingham, to join her parents, who had travelled to the UK a few years earlier.
She began writing songs at 14 and her contralto voice and varied musical style, taking in folk, jazz, blues, soul and rock, has earned her three Grammy nominations and an Ivor Novello Award.
She advised young performers not to worry about fame but connecting with an audience.
“Don’t necessarily get obsessed with great big big success, you can’t judge it by that really, you can only judge it by how people respond to what you do.
“It’s kind of a cliche but very true – be true to yourself and what you hold dear, and trust in your talents. That’s all I do – I know I’m good.”