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JANET STREET-PORTER: Receiving my hard-earned CBE was the proudest moment of my life, that’s why – unlike Katharine Hamnett – I would never chuck it in the bin. Her pointless stunt is just another slogan for one of her T-shirts


As modern protests go, posing by a wheelie bin outside your front door might seem a bit pathetic. But look who the star of this Insta magic moment turns out to be!

The pristine black T-shirt is a bit of a giveaway, emblazoned with the headline DISGUSTED TO BE BRITISH in extra-large letters just in case you can’t read.

This is a picky designer who doesn’t wear just any old T-shirt.

It must be a sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, planet-supporting tee, complete with a catchphrase that impressionable trendies will soon be copying.

This is a woman who’s made her fortune over the last 40 years flogging slogans stating the bleeding obvious. A woman who has spent her life getting DISGUSTED and putting it on her chest.

Yes, this well-spoken lady of a certain age flamboyantly chucking a highly-prized medal in the trash is none other than iconic fashion designer and life-long eccentric Katharine Hamnett, who has spent over 50 years flogging her designs to George Michael, Madonna and every pop star desperate to appear ‘credible’. 

This week life-long eccentric Katharine Hamnett threw her CBE in the bin

This week life-long eccentric Katharine Hamnett threw her CBE in the bin 

While throwing away the honour, she said: 'This is my CBE, it belongs in the bin with Sunak and Starmer¿

While throwing away the honour, she said: ‘This is my CBE, it belongs in the bin with Sunak and Starmer’

Receiving my hard-earned CBE was the proudest moment of my life, that's why - unlike Katharine Hamnett - I would never chuck it in the bin

Receiving my hard-earned CBE was the proudest moment of my life, that’s why – unlike Katharine Hamnett – I would never chuck it in the bin

The completely fearless female who stunned Maggie Thatcher by whipping back her jacket at a Downing Street reception to reveal ‘58% DON’T WANT PERSHING’ written across her front.

At the time, a poll had shown that people (including Katharine, naturally) were furious about the rapid expansion of Pershing and Cruise missile bases all over Europe. 

Maggie responded ‘but we’ve got Cruise (missiles) my dear. So maybe you’re at the wrong party’. But the Iron Lady was definitely rattled by the brilliant stunt.

That image went around the world and Katharine Hamnett’s new career as a designer of protest-wear was born. Slogan followed slogan and millions were sold. 

CHOOSE LIFE was worn by George Michael in the video for Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Roger Taylor from Queen wore CHOOSE LOVE (to raise funds for refugees) at Rock in Rio. 

And Hamnett received the ultimate accolade – being ripped off by Frankie Goes to Hollywood with their version, FRANKIE SAYS RELAX.

Katharine was a trailblazer, leading campaigns to make fashion more sustainable and less wasteful, drawing attention to the plight of cotton farmers in India (300,000 died in 20 years from pesticide poisoning and contaminated water) with T-shirts that screamed CLEAN UP OR DIE in 1989 – way before Greta Thunberg was a little sprog.

Hamnett stunned Maggie Thatcher by whipping back her jacket at a Downing Street reception to reveal ¿58% DON¿T WANT PERSHING¿ written across her front

Hamnett stunned Maggie Thatcher by whipping back her jacket at a Downing Street reception to reveal ‘58% DON’T WANT PERSHING’ written across her front

Even at at 76 years old, Katharine is still a campaigner to the core as she showed this week

Even at at 76 years old, Katharine is still a campaigner to the core as she showed this week 

She got angry about so much, from the lack of black models on the catwalk to Tony Blair and the war in Iraq. 

But after a while, slogans are just slogans, and top fashion houses from Gucci to Chanel were quick to rip her off, selling T-shirts which cost little to produce for thousands of Euros.

Slogans became just a tool to flaunt your street credentials. Once Celine and Balenciaga were using catchphrases, protest had lost its edge.

By 2011, Katharine Hamnett was happy to join the establishment and accept a prestigious honour – the CBE – from the Queen, wearing a flamboyant hat by Philip Treacy, festooned with blood red (what else?) cock feathers.

But deep down, she didn’t mellow, despite telling people she was ‘holding out to be a Duchess with a castle’.

This week’s Wheelie Bin Bombshell shows that at 76 years old, Katharine is still a campaigner to the core. 

Enraged by the ongoing hostilities in Gaza, she decided to publicly throw away the well-deserved CBE she received for services to the fashion industry back in 2011, pinned to her frock by the late Queen.

What’s the point? However sincere, will a bit of posturing by a bin in fashionable Hackney make a jot of difference? Isn’t everyone getting exhausted by the constant waves of protest which bring our cities and high streets to a standstill with increasing regularity.

 In the name of saving the planet and halting climate change hundreds of thousands of angry demonstrators have made their feelings perfectly clear. 

They have glued themselves to roads, chucked paint and tomato soup over artworks and closed motorways for hours on end, climbing up gantries and risking their lives.

The war in Ukraine and now the horrific slaughter and chaos in Gaza have seen thousands more out on the streets, furious at what they see as feeble government and ineffectual leaders. And who can disagree?

Katharine’s style is rather more genteel. Not for her the screaming or the chanting or the waving of an ugly home-made placard. 

She simply opens her nice front door, steps down to the wheelie bin and announces ‘I’m disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza. 

This is my CBE, it belongs in the bin with Sunak and Starmer’.

By 2011, Katharine Hamnett was happy to join the establishment and accept a prestigious honour - the CBE - from the Queen, wearing a flamboyant hat by Philip Treacy, festooned with blood red (what else?) cock feathers

By 2011, Katharine Hamnett was happy to join the establishment and accept a prestigious honour – the CBE – from the Queen, wearing a flamboyant hat by Philip Treacy, festooned with blood red (what else?) cock feathers

Katharine¿s silly protest won¿t change anything in Gaza. I hope she realises that later and retrieves her gong

Katharine’s silly protest won’t change anything in Gaza. I hope she realises that later and retrieves her gong

Then a QR code directs you to a website where you can buy the T-shirt for £30 and find out who your MP is. Katharine declares ‘write and tell your MP you’ll never vote for them unless they support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza’.

Sadly, end result looks a little bit like a clip from Ab Fab, I keep expecting Patsy to pop up from inside the bin with the CBE stuck in her beehive and a pithy putdown.

Katharine Hamnett is Ab Fab personified – posh to the core, educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, sent to school on the Orient Express when her dad (a military attache) was posted to Bucharest. 

We first met in 1969 when she’d just left St Martin’s Art School. Back then, as now, she was terrifying, brutally outspoken and fearless. Certain that she was right and everyone else was wrong.

I made my career in journalism, and like Katharine, I received a CBE (for services to broadcasting and journalism) from the Queen back in 2016. 

It was the proudest moment of my life. Jasper Conran (a contemporary of Katharine’s) designed me a special frock made from British silk. I did not wear a hat. 

And my celebration cake had the Sex Pistols on the top. Getting a CBE recognises the hard slog you’ve had to get up the greasy pole of success – at least that’s what it meant to me.

The last thing I would ever do is chuck it in the bin. My achievement stands as a sign to other women that they can do it too.

Katharine’s silly protest won’t change anything in Gaza. I hope she realises that later and retrieves her gong.

Sadly, I don’t think this pig-headed woman will.



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