Then there was another vote, supposedly influenced by the programmes and the top ten was put in order. I enjoyed all of that stuff, had my own opinions and scoffed at some of the people elevated to the rank of apparent national icon.
This is the final list of ten in the order finally voted for by the British public.
1. Winston Churchill (1874 to 1965) – Prime Minister
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 to 1859) – Engineer
3. Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 to 1997)
4. Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) – Naturalist, the originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of 'On the Origin of Species'
5. William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) – English poet and playwright
6. Sir Isaac Newton (1642 to 1727) – Mathematician, physicist, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist (and probable nutter!)
7. Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533 to 1603) – English monarch (reigned 1558 to 1603)
8. John Lennon (1940 to 1980) – Beatle, humanitarian
9. Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 to 1805) – Naval commander
10. Oliver Cromwell (1599 to 1658) – Lord Protector
And bubbling under were:
11. Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874 to 1922) – Polar explorer
12. Captain James Cook (1728 to 1779) – Explorer
13. Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1857 to 1941) – Boy Scouts and Girl Guides founder
14. Alfred the Great (around 849 to 899) – King of Wessex (reigned 871 to 899)
15. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 to 1852) – Military commander, statesman and Prime Minister
Looking back on that list from a vantage point of eleven years beyond, it doesn’t actually look as strange as I imagined it would. Things like this are obviously incredibly subjective, and, as the saying goes, someone’s anarchist is someone else’s freedom fighter, someone’s sinner is someone else’s saint.
I think there are a couple of serious mistakes in the top ten, and would gladly elevate a couple of people to take their places. I also have to remember that the list was of the greatest Britons ever! That’s a lot of people to choose from, from a lot of centuries.
To start with, the poll was carried out just a few short years after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The majority of the nation was still feeling the pain of that at the time, whipped up by large sections of the media who couldn’t stop talking about it. I don’t think she would make the high end of the list now.
And I’m sort of surprised, even though I’m not a royalist, that Queen Elizabeth the second doesn’t make the top ten. She actually rolled in at number 24. I definitely think she should be higher than that, if only because she sent my parents a card for their recent landmark wedding anniversary. Though, I would have to question her Britishness. She has much more in common with tenuous German nobility, in terms of her ancestry, than she does with me.
I would definitely push Alfred the Great up the list quite a way from number 14, probably swapping him with Nelson. Without this king’s wisdom, doggedness and foresight, without his passion for learning and his Anglo-Saxon people, England as a nation, would never have existed. I have to express a bit of an interest, because his idea of a united England and his desire to make it happen, formed while he was in hiding from the Danish invaders in the Somerset Marshes within walking distance of where I live. To think that I live within sight, from my upstairs windows, of the birthplace of this country, and I drive past a monument that marks that achievement every day. So yes, he’s got to be up there. It’s no accident in my mind that he’s the only monarch we have had who carries the words ‘the Great’ after his name.
The other huge omission is Florence Nightingale. Yes, she was weird; yes, she had her failings; yes, she conducted much of her life from her bed, but she got a lot done for both science and medicine, inventing the pie chart and nursing as we know it. Surprisingly, she was only number 52 on the final list.
Apart from that, to my mind it’s not a bad list. Of course, I would put them in a slightly different order, but so would just about everyone else, and it wouldn’t be the same order as mine. Personally, I would have Darwin streets ahead at the top. I would have Cromwell higher and Elizabeth 1 lower.
If you’re interested, here’s the list from 11 to 100
And I have met only two people from the full list, Sir Douglas Bader at number 47, and Bob Geldof at 75.