Where Are All The Female National Treasures?

I’ve wanted to write about British National Treasures for some time, mostly as an excuse to talk about Adam and Joe and how much I love them. However, Adam and Joe can wait – because when doing my research I discovered a shocking lack of women being described as national treasures and I want to rectify that.

What Is A National Treasure?
A wise person on Wikipedia says that “Nationalism is an ideology which supports the nation as the fundamental unit of human social life, which includes shared language, values and culture. Thus national treasure, part of the ideology of nationalism, is shared culture.” We use the term quite a lot these days, when referring to people in the public eye who we want to show support for – we use it as both a tribute and an acknowledgement of our pride in that person.

If the list was just ‘famous British women’, it would be completely different; if it was a list of role models, it’d be completely different. I say a national treasure is a person we are proud and fond of. Think Jimmy Saville – he was certainly a national treasure but you wouldn’t necessarily aspire to be like him.

It’s worth mentioning that some people who’ve been given the accolade over the years have objected, e.g. Judi Dench said “I hate being called a national treasure because it sounds so dusty. “A national treasure is something that never changes and is sitting there behind glass.”. I don’t necessarily agree – I always thought of a national treasure as a fluid thing, people earn the title and, equally, can lose it.

Who Are The Brits’ National Treasures?
A 2011 poll by Euromillions awarded Sir David Attenborough the status of #1 National Treasure, followed by Stephen Fry, Sir Sean Connery, Sir Paul McCartney, Stephen Hawking, JK Rowling, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Tom Jones and Lord Richard Attenborough. A quick search online shows pretty similar results – the same people’s names come up again and again.

Where Are All The Women?
Only two of the top ten living national treasures as voted above were women. Why? Is it our tendency to judge women in the public eye by completely different standards to men? Do we see success as a sign of hardness in women – thus excluding the successful from lists like these? It’s not really the time or place for me to try and answer those questions – but I would like to suggest a few contenders. As always, feel free to let me know who I’ve missed out (and who I should have left off the list). Who’d be the national treasures for your country? No, you can’t say Katniss.

Catherine Tate – If you’re assigning the title based on likeability, Catherine Tate springs straight to mind. Not many actors have the ability to do both comedy and drama with such ease.

Victoria Beckham – I could say something about being a businesswoman and mother…but really it’s because she was Posh Spice.

Cerys Matthews – because who would have thought the Catatonia front woman would turn out to provide the perfect radio backdrop to your Sunday morning with her gentle humour and insane music knowledge?

The Queen – well, of course.

Kate Middleton – she married a freaking prince!

Helena Bonham-Carter – for epitomising British quirkiness, as well as being a damn fine actress.

Maggie Smith – even if just for her role in Downton Abbey!

Vivienne Westwood – working class girl who showed that working hard can work.

Delia Smith – oh Delia. You made it onto the list because you’re a women who’s into football. And you make nice cakes. What could be more British?

June Brown – Because (a) we love Dot Cotton and (b) we love to see June out of the Dot character – she’s just so clever and – dare I say – cool? (see also my British fashion icon column!)

Image via DFree /

  • Christina Sparkle

    Queenie, Kate, Helena, Maggie – yes. Vivienne – definitely.

    Not so sure on Catherin Tate, VB, Cerys Matthews or June Brown.

    I’d say Babs Windsor would be a contender maybe? And how about Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters? Ok, now I’m just naming Harry Potter actresses, but they were chosen for a reason!

  • Amanda Browning

    Just putting this out there but I berludddy love Adam and Joe, the amount of times I’ve burst out laughing on the tube when listening to their podcasts is rediculous & a little embarrassing but so worth it!
    Also massively love Catherine Tate, she’s so funny & I saw her in Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant in the Summer and she was amazing, probably one of the Shakespeare plays I think I’ve seen. 😀

  • Natalie Cavey

    I like this list….
    I would add Dawn French, definitely Julie Walters as suggested, Ruth Jones. Cerys Matthews, good choice :)

  • Liza Baron

    Ooh, I definitely should have included Barbara Windsor! Sorry Babs!

  • Peter McDonald

    What about Lauren Laverne? Also at a push PJ Harvey although maybe she’s not mainstream enough to be a national treasure she’s one of the most influential female musician in the country…

  • Elaine McMillan

    Julie Walters def!!! Oh and Dawn French and maybe Jennifer Saunders:)

  • Katie Glenn

    I adore Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham-Carter!

  • Lizzy Andrew


  • Tany Monteiro

    Helen Mirren, please!

  • Liza Baron

    Just coming!

  • Liza Baron

    Also, I would have said Lauren Laverne, but I gushed about her in my fashion icon piece and didn’t want to be a scary fan girl!

  • Becca Robson

    I wanted to say Stephen! But someone beat me to it! 😀

    • Leah Van Horn

      Jennifer Saunders…Amazing comedian and writer!

  • Kara Nowakowski

    I love that you listed Catherine Tate first. That just made my day.

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