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The royal recognition given to the work of Professor Stephen Hawking

Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died at the age of 76, was one of Britain’s greatest ever scientists but despite being given many honours, he declined a knighthood. However, that didn’t stop him developing an apparently relaxed relationship with the Queen. As the world pays tributes to one of its all-time great thinkers, let’s look back at the times royalty celebrated Professor Stephen Hawking.

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The Queen and Professor Hawking met several times and their last public encounter, in 2014, showed the level of warmth between them. While hosting a reception celebrating the work of the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Queen spoke to Professor Hawking and asked him whether he still had ‘’that American voice’’, a reference to the famous computer-based communication system he used. The scientist underlined the relaxed nature of their relationship by replying with the joke that his voice was copyrighted.

Professor Hawking was no stranger to Buckingham Palace. In May 2006, he was a guest at the ‘’Serving Beyond Sixty’’ reception the Queen hosted at her London residence to celebrate the achievements of high profile figures contributing to public life in their seventh decade and beyond. Stephen Hawking, then 64, met the Monarch in the Music Room of the Palace.

A few months later, he returned to Buckingham Palace. In October 2006, the Queen hosted a reception there to celebrate the importance of British science. The professor was one of 500 guests at the event which was held on Science Day and which saw the ballroom at Buckingham Palace play host to a giant representation of Einstein’s head and a model of a pterosaur which swung from the famous chandelier decked ceiling.

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The Queen and the professor were reunited in 2010 when Her Majesty visited a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show inspired by the renowned physicist. The display was commissioned by the Motor Neurone Disease Association which counted on Stephen Hawking’s very public support. He was diagnosed with the condition as a young man and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of and promote research into it and other related illnesses.

The garden he showed the Queen at this meeting included references to time travel with a plant, Wollemia nobilis which grew during the time of the dinosaurs, scattered among more modern species. The display, designed by Sue Hayward, also featured a representation of black hole and meteorites.  It went on to win a bronze award at the show.

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Professor Hawking returned in Buckingham Palace in 2015 when he attended a reception in support of the Motor Neurone Disease Association hosted by the Princess Royal.

Stephen Hawking turned down a knighthood. He said in 2008 that he had been offered the honour but declined it, reportedly because he wasn’t happy about the level of funding the government was channelling to sciences. He was, however, made a CBE in 1982 and a Companion of Honour in 1989.

The man who brought a new perspective on life, the universe and everything to generations through his accessible discussions of science (including his famous book A Brief History of Time) is being remembered for many reasons as his death is announced. We can no doubt expect more royal tributes to the work and achievements of Stephen Hawking in the days and weeks to come.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.