Michael Sheen returned OBE to speak freely about British monarchy

'The Queen' actor says he wanted to avoid accusations of hypocrisy for criticising royal family's 'tortured' history with Wales

Welsh actor Michael Sheen has revealed that he returned his OBE so he could deliver a lecture on the British royal family without being labelled a "hypocrite".

Sheen, 51, who was born in Newport, Wales, was made an OBE in 2009, when he was included on the New Year Honours for his services to drama.

He has since, however, returned the award, so that he could speak freely about abolishing the title of Prince of Wales, which is held by Prince Charles and is traditionally held by the heir to the British throne.

It was when writing a 2017 lecture on the subject, and the "tortured history" that Wales shares with England and Britain, he decided to return his OBE, he explains.

"In my research to do that lecture, I learnt a lot about Welsh history," Sheen told The Guardian newspaper columnist Owen Jones in a conversation on his personal YouTube channel.

"By the time I’d finished writing that lecture, I remember sitting there going, 'Well, I have a choice. I either don’t give this lecture and hold on to my OBE or I give this lecture and I have to give my OBE back.'"

In the conversation, Sheen referenced the 2018 decision to rename a second bridge crossing across the river Severn between England and Wales the Prince of Wales Bridge, despite a petition against it.

"These things have power," Sheen said. "The idea of the Prince of Wales and that being an Englishman and the history of that ... Why Edward [I] made his son the Prince of Wales was part of keeping down the Welsh rebellion. These are things that happened so long ago but these things are resonant."

The title of Prince of Wales dates from 1301, when King Edward I gave the title to his son, the future Edward II, following his conquest of Wales and execution of David III in 1283. David III was the last native Prince of Wales.

In 2006, Sheen played British prime minister Tony Blair in The Queen, a film depiction of the British Royal Family in the months following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in August 1997. In the film, Queen Elizabeth II is played by Helen Mirren.

Sheen explained why he had not previously spoken out about returning the honour.
"I didn't mean any disrespect, but I just realised I'd be a hypocrite if I said the things I was going to say in the lecture about the nature of the relationship between Wales and the British state," he said.