For a small country with just one per cent of the world’s population, the UK has produced more than its fair share world-leading artists, fashion designers, architects, actors, writers, comedians, engineers, scientists, sports stars and intrepid explorers.
Here are just a handful of the greatest living Britons...
Sir Norman Foster
Sir Norman Foster was born in Manchester in 1935. After graduating from the University of Manchester’s School of Architecture and City Planning in 1961, he won a Henry Fellowship to Yale University, where he gained a Master’s degree in architecture.
He is the founder and chairman of Foster + Partners. Founded in London in 1967, it is now a worldwide practice, with project offices in more than 20 countries. Over the past four decades, the practice has been responsible for a strikingly wide range of work, from urban masterplans, public infrastructure, airports, civic and cultural buildings, offices and workplaces to private houses and product design.
Foster’s designs can be found in China (Beijing Airport, the largest construction project in the world,), France (Millau Viaduct), Malaysia (University Campus for Petronas), Germany (the Reichstag Parliament Buildings), Hong Kong (Chek Lap Kok Airport), and the US (Spaceport America in New Mexico and Hearst Headquarters tower in New York). In the UK, he is responsible for designing the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the British Museum, the Canary Wharf Underground Station, the Millennium Bridge over the River Thames, the Swiss Re tower (better known as the Gherkin, pictured above) and City Hall.
Find out more at the Fosters + Partners website.
Superstar midfielder and global style icon David Beckham currently plays his football in the US, where he’s the captain of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.
The highest-paid footballer ever, Beckham has twice been runner-up for FIFA World Player of the Year. He was captain of England from 15 November 2000 to 2 July 2006, and is tantalisingly close to reaching 100 caps for his country (the Euro 2008 qualifying group defeat to Croatia was his 99th appearance in an England shirt). At club level, Beckham began his career with Manchester United, making his first-team debut in 1992 aged 17. He left Manchester United to sign for Real Madrid in 2003, where he remained for four seasons before joining the LA Galaxy in January 2007.
Beckham married Spice Girl Victoria ’Posh’ Adams in 1999, and they have three sons together - Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz. Million pound sponsorships, perfumes, clothing ranges, and many more business deals have seen the Beckhams net millions over the years, but they are by no means uncharitable (David is a generous UNICEF supporter as well as Malaria No More and countless other causes).
To find out more about the elite advertising brand, top fashion icon and national treasure that is David Beckham, check out his official website.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Born on 8 June 1955, Sir Tim Berners-Lee studied at The Queen’s College, Oxford, graduating in 1976 with a degree in physics.
With a background of system design in real-time communications and text processing software development, in 1989 he invented the World Wide Web while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. He wrote the first web client (browser-editor) and server in 1990.
Tim now holds the 3Com Founders chair at the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He directs the World Wide Web Consortium, an open forum of companies and organisations with the mission to lead the Web to its full potential.
Find out more from his official website.
J K Rowling
Joanne Rowling - better known around the world as J K Rowling - was born in the town of Yate, South Gloucestershire in 1965. She is the most successful literary author of all time, and her world-famous Harry Potter series has so far sold over 400 million copies and has been translated into over 60 languages. The seventh, and final, Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, was published in July 2007, and, to date, six of the books have made there way on to the screen.
Rowling went to the University of Exeter, where she studied French and the Classics. After leaving university, she worked for Amnesty International in London as a researcher and bilingual secretary.
She wrote her first novel whilst living in Edinburgh, where she moved to in 1994. Rowling was living on state benefits at the time and the first Harry Potter novel was written in local cafes. The completed manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before a small publishing company called Bloomsbury finally agreed to publish the book and Rowling was given a £1,500 advance. The following year, Scholastic Inc paid $100,000 for the rights to publish the Harry Potter novels in the US.
The UK’s wealthiest woman, Rowling is a great donator to charity and in the future she intends to publish a Harry Potter encyclopedia with all profits going to charity.
Find out more from her official website.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Sir Ranulph Fiennes was born in 1944 and educated at Eton. He served with the Royal Scots Greys for a time before joining the SAS, and in 1968 he joined the Army of the Sultan of Oman. Since 1969, when he led the British Expedition on the White Nile, Ranulph Fiennes has been at the forefront of many exploratory expeditions.
Described in 1984 as the ’World’s Greatest Living Explorer’ by the Guinness Book of Records, his expeditions around the world include Transglobe (the first surface journey around the world’s polar axis) in 1979/82; North Polar Unsupported Expedition (furthest north unsupported record) in 1986; Anglo-Soviet North Pole Expedition in 1990/91; and being the leader of the Pentland South Pole Expedition (which achieved the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent and the longest unsupported polar journey in history) in 1992/93.
In 2003, Sir Ranulph, with Dr Mike Stroud, ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. This, despite his having suffered a major heart attack and double bypass operation in June 2003. He also attempted to climb the Northern ridge of Everest in 2005.
Find out more from his official website.
Ricky Gervais was born on June 25, 1961 in Reading, England. Gervais is best-known for co-writing, co-directing and above all starring as David Brent in the BBC sitcom series The Office and similarly creating and acting in Extras.
The Office was a hit both in terms of ratings and with the critics. Gervais won the Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for best comedy performance for three years in a row, while The Office took two Golden Globes in Hollywood in January 2004, including Gervais winning ’Best Actor’ for his role as David Brent - the first UK star to win a TV comedy acting prize at the US Golden Globe awards.
The Office was a hard act to follow, but Ricky Gervais together with Stephen Merchant managed to create another critical and popular series - Extras, in which Gervais played Andy Millman an ’extra’ and nice chap, who ends up developing a comedy series.
Ricky Gervais has gone on to perform various one-man stage shows, write the Flanimals range of children’s book, and star in a number of Hollywood films. Find out more from his official website.
Stella McCartney was born in London in 1971, the daughter of Beatle Paul McCartney and photographer wife, Linda. She graduated from London’s Central St Martins College of Art & Design in 1995, persuading her celebrity pals Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss to be her catwalk models. Her final-year collection was bought by London boutique Tokio,and she launched her eponymous label the same year.
Stella’s style of combining sharp tailoring with humour and sexy femininity was immediately apparent in her first collection. In March 1997, after only two collections, she became the creative director of the house of Chloe in Paris, succeeding Karl Lagerfeld in one of the most high-profile posts in the industry.
In April 2001, Stella left Chloe for Gucci to develop her own label as a global luxury brand, and October of that year, she showed her own Spring/Summer 2002 Collection in Paris. Following the collection, she announced the launch of a perfume in 2003.
Get the latest Stella McCartney news from her official website.
Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England. He gained a first-class honours degree in natural science, and then went on to Cambridge to do research in cosmology, there being no-one working in that area in Oxford at the time. After gaining his PhD, he became a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.
After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973 Stephen joined the University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and since 1979 has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (a post held by Isaac Newton in 1669).
Stephen Hawking has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. These results indicated it was necessary to unify general relativity with quantum theory, the other great scientific development of the first half of the 20th Century. One consequence of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science.
A fan of Matt Groening, Professor Hawking has starred in several episodes of The Simpsons and an episode of Futurama. He is quoted as saying: ’I think [The Simpsons] is one of the cleverest shows on television, and it always has a moral.’
Find out more from his website.