What is an OBE and what does it stand for?


THE honours system pays tribute to everyday people who make an outstanding contribution to British life.

OBEs are one of the most common awards, but what does it stand for and what does it entitle you to?

Journalist and broadcaster Eamonn Holmes was awarded the OBE in June 2018.

What is an OBE?

An OBE is a British honour awarded by the Queen to recognise extraordinary contributions to the country. 

It is the second-highest ranking in the Order of the British Empire honours after the CBE (Commander) and sits above the MBE (Member). 

King George V created the Orders of the British Empire during World War One in 1917 to honour the efforts of civilians and servicemen in non-combat roles.

They are now awarded to civilians twice a year – at New Year and on the Queen’s official birthday.

The most recent honours to be handed out were the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2020.

Former England football captain David Beckham was awarded an OBE in 2003

What does OBE stand for?

OBE stands for Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

The OBE is generally given to people who have made a major contribution to their line of work, or whose work has gained national prominence.

Among the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours recipients for the award was Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford after he helped fight for vulnerable children in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

What does an OBE entitle you to?

The OBE does not bestow any special legal entitlement or power. Recipients are entitled to put the letters OBE after their name and enjoy the prestige and possible raised profile this brings.

Recipients are entitled to attend an investiture ceremony within six months of receiving the honour.

Here they will formally receive their insignia from the Queen or another senior Royal (most recently these have been Prince Charles, Prince William or Princess Anne).

Prince Charles awarded Anthony Joshua an OBE at Buckingham Palace in December 2018.

How do you address an OBE?

The OBE is known as a ‘post nominal’ award, therefore it does not carry a title like Sir or Dame which should be used in front of the name.

This is reserved for those who are appointed Knights or Dames.  

For those with an OBE, you address them like any other person.

Can you nominate someone for an OBE?

Yes, anyone can nominate anyone for an OBE by visiting the Cabinet Office website and filling in an application form.

This is then submitted to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat.

You cannot nominate yourself and you cannot choose what type of award a person is nominated for as this is determined during the selection process.

Can non-British citizens get an OBE?

You must be a British national or a citizen of the 15 Commonwealth countries to receive the OBE.

However, the Queen can make an honorary awards such as the OBE to foreign nationals.

These are nominated by the The Foreign Office, which has responsibility for the Diplomatic Service and Overseas List.