50 Famous Fellows - RSA Journal - RSA

50 Famous Fellows

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    Dan Matthews
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Born on 22 March 1754 at Rawthmell's coffee house in Covent Garden, the RSA’s founding aim was to use subscription funds to promote the world’s best creative endeavours. Originally based on a membership model, the term ‘Fellowship’ was adopted in 1914.

Today, RSA Fellows are a global network of extraordinary people, an eclectic group of thinkers, makers, doers, activists and artists — all changemakers — who understand how much stronger they are when banded together under the banner of the Society.

That RSA spirit has attracted some truly remarkable Fellows (and members) over the years, including globally renowned and historically significant individuals across all industries. Here (in no particular order), we cast a spotlight on just 50 of them, ranging from lions of the Enlightenment to contemporary campaigners for justice.

Theodore Roosevelt

US president

(1858-1919)

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th US president, and a soldier, naturalist, historian and man of letters. In 1910, the then-former president was elected a life member by the Society for his commitment to progressive reforms, conservation and strong foreign policy.

Sarah Mason

Chief executive and charity leader

(1973–)

A Fellow since August 2023, Sarah Mason is Chief Executive of the Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, having worked in various roles in the movement for more than three decades. The Federation provided specialist support to more than 7,500 women in the financial year 2022–23. She was made an MBE for services to women and girls in the 2024 New Year Honours List.

Judi Dench

Actor

(1934–)

Dame Judi Dench has enjoyed an illustrious career in film and television and on the stage. Since her 1957 debut, she has collected an Academy Award and eight further nominations, two Golden Globes, seven Olivier Awards and six Baftas.

Muhammad Abdul Bari

Physicist, writer, community leader

(1953–)

Bangladeshi-born Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a former Secretary of Muslim Aid, a former Chairman of the East London Mosque and a former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. In 2006, Time Out put him at number seven on its list of movers and shakers in London.

Henry Cole by Pyotr Kovalenko

Henry Cole

Inventor

(1808–1882)

Sir Henry Cole was a civil servant and inventor who became chief architect of the Great Exhibition of 1851. He promoted postal reform, was instrumental in creating the National Training School for Music and helped progress working conditions on ships. It was said of him that, “his enterprise, energy and perseverance stimulated its proceedings and supplied much of the driving force that gave the Society a new importance in the land”.

Bernardine Evaristo by Pyotr Kovalenko

Bernardine Evaristo

Author

(1959–)

Bernardine Evaristo is a British author and academic. Her books have been awarded ‘Book of the Year’ 60 times and her novel Girl, Woman, Other jointly won the Booker Prize in 2019, making her the first Black woman to claim the prize. She has received numerous honours, and was made an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2020. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, she became its president in 2022.

Alexander Graham Bell

Inventor and scientist

(1847–1922)

Alexander Graham Bell gave two demonstrations of his telephone to the Society in 1877. In 1878, he was elected an honorary life member and was presented with the Albert Medal in 1902.

Caroline Haslett

Electrical engineer

(1895–1957)

Dame Caroline Haslett started her career as a clerk at the Cochran Boiler Company. Her interest led her to train in the manufacture of boilers, ultimately leaving the company to become the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society. She went on to create the Electrical Association for Women, which implemented a national educational programme, and was elected a Fellow in 1934.

Isambard Brunel

Civil engineer

(1806–1859)

An exceptional civil and mechanical engineer, Brunel designed the first transatlantic steamer, built more than 1,600km of railway and constructed innumerable ships, buildings and infrastructure. He was a member of the Committee of the Society.

William Wilberforce

Politician and abolitionist

(1759–1833)

William Wilberforce was a British politician and philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. He was elected an independent MP for Yorkshire in 1784 and quickly became a leading abolitionist, heading up the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for 20 years until the Slave Trade Act (which abolished the British slave trade) was passed in 1807.

Thomas Edison

Inventor

(1847–1931)

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, was honoured with the Albert Medal in 1892 for his numerous inventions. The Society’s Great Room hosted the first demonstration in England of Edison’s incandescent light bulbs.

John Howard

Philanthropist and reformer

(1726–1790)

John Howard was a prominent philanthropist and English prison reformer. He advocated for a prison system that maintained its toughness but ensured a healthy environment for inmates. The Penitentiary Act of 1779 saw the construction of two prisons in accordance with his ideas. He also forced through the abolition of discharge fees. His name appears in the first signature book of the Society of Arts.

AY Young

Recording artist and UN Young Leader

(1991–)

AY Young is a singer, songwriter, producer and entrepreneur. His Battery Tour, run on 100% renewable energy, raised money to provide energy to individuals and towns across the world. He is currently working on Project 17, a collaborative concept album about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Patricia Tindale

Architect

(1926–2011)

Patricia Randall Tindale was an architect and senior civil servant working on large-scale projects in the UK and US. A Society of Arts Fellow for more than 20 years, she left around £700,000 in her will to the Society. The RSA established a Tindale lecture series in her memory, created a space for Fellows, the Tindale Room, at RSA House, and a Patricia Tindale Legacy Award, part of the RSA Student Design Awards (soon to be relaunched as the Design for Life Awards).

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Nick Park by Pyotr Kovalenko

Nick Park

Filmmaker and animator

(1958–)

Creator of the famed animated film series Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park has received four Academy Awards since Creature Comforts won him his first Oscar in 1989. He is the brains behind a host of globally successful animations including Chicken Run, the highest-grossing stop motion animated film, Shaun the Sheep and Early Man. Park was appointed a CBE in the 1997 Birthday Honours for services to the animated film industry.

Mary Moser by Pyotr Kovalenko

Mary Moser

Painter

(1744–1819)

Mary Moser was a celebrated artist admired for her paintings of flowers. She won her first premium for a design from the Society aged 14. In 1795, Moser received another and was awarded the Society’s silver medal for ‘extraordinary merit’. The painting was displayed at the Society’s first art exhibition in 1760 and again in the ‘Exhibition of Exhibitions’ in 1951. At 24, she was one of two female founding members of the Royal Academy.

Deanna Van Buren

Architect

(DOB unknown)

Deanna Van Buren is an activist and architect renowned for her contributions to architecture, design and real estate innovation, and advocacy for restorative justice. She has received the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship and the Berkeley-Rupp Prize.

William Hogarth

Painter

(1697–1764)

William Hogarth is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of English painting. He was one of the earliest members of the Society of Arts, elected in 1755. Along with Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Wilson, he presented portraits to decorate the Society, and his name appears in the original signature book in the archives. Hogarth’s Act, created in 1735, secured copyright for works of art.

Charles Dickens

Writer

(1812–1870)

Charles Dickens became a member of the Society in 1849. He appears in the archival minutes of several meetings, contributed to journals and in 1864 read a paper at the Society entitled “A Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent”.

John Millais

Painter

(1829–1896)

A founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Sir John Millais was an English painter and illustrator. He won a gold medal from the Society in 1846 for an original historical painting and a gold medal in 1847 for an original composition, and exhibited at the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 and the Exhibition of Modern Illustration in 1901. In 1896 he served as President of the Royal Academy.

William Shipley

RSA founder

(1715–1803)

Shipley founded the Society of Arts in 1754, believing that public recognition would inspire industry, making Britain a centre for advancements in the arts and sciences. The first meeting occurred in March 1754 at Rawthmells coffee house.

Georgina Lara Booth

Journalist and humanitarian

(1994–)

Georgina Lara Booth is a British-Dutch humanitarian, writer, filmmaker and journalist. She is a UN Women delegate at the Commission on the Status of Women and recipient of the International Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Award. In March 2023, Booth was selected for the Forbes 30 under 30 list in the media category for her journalism and editorial work.

Mohammed Amin

Businessman

(1950–)

Mohammed Amin is a British-Pakistani businessman, ex-PwC partner and former Chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He currently Co-chairs the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and leads the Council of the Islam and Liberty Network.

Deborah Meaden

Entrepreneur and investor

(1959–)

Deborah Meaden is a business owner and celebrity investor, having first appeared on the popular TV show Dragon’s Den in August 2006. In addition to appearances on numerous TV shows (including as a contestant on dancing competition programme Strictly Come Dancing), since 2022 Meaden has co-presented The Big Green Money Show for BBC Radio. The series discusses actions being taken by businesses and individuals in response to climate change.

Shirley Manson by Pyotr Kovalenko

Shirley Manson

Musician and actress

(1966–)

Lead singer of the American rock band Garbage, Shirley Manson has released seven studio albums, including Version 2.0, which garnered two Grammy Award nominations. Born and raised in Edinburgh, she commuted to the US for recordings with the band. Manson is credited with inspiring other female artists and has used her profile to help raise millions of pounds for charitable causes, most notably Aids charities.

David Attenborough by Pyotr Kovalenko

David Attenborough

Broadcaster and biologist

(1926–)

With a career spanning eight decades, Sir David Attenborough is a naturalist known for hit TV shows made with the BBC Natural History Unit. He rose to prominence presenting Zoo Quest in 1954 and is the only person to win Baftas in black and white, colour, high definition, 3D and 4K. His beloved presenting style has earned him three Emmy Awards and he has used his celebrity to progress environmental causes.

Mya-Rose Craig

Author and activist

(2002–)

Mya-Rose Craig is one of the RSA’s youngest Fellows. She is an author, bird lover and activist, and sometimes goes by the name ‘Birdgirl’, which is also the title of the memoir she published in 2022. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Bristol University in 2020 and is the youngest British person to receive such an award.

Prue Leith

Broadcaster and chef

(1940–)

Dame Prue Leith is a restaurateur, broadcaster, cookery writer, novelist and Chancellor of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. She was the first woman appointed to the British Railways Board in 1980 and is a former director of the Places for People Housing Association. As Chair of the RSA (from 1995 to 1997), she led the successful campaign to use the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to feature continuously revolving installations by contemporary artists.

Vivienne Westwood

Fashion designer

(1941–2022)

Dame Vivienne Westwood was an English fashion designer and businesswoman, credited with introducing punk and new wave fashions to the mainstream. She designed clothes for the boutique she ran with Malcolm McLaren, then expanded worldwide.

Betty Jackson

Fashion designer

(1949–)

Betty Jackson was named British Designer of the Year in 1985, just four years after launching her first fashion collection. She was given the Royal Designer for Industry title by the RSA in 1988, became a Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art in 1999 and received a CBE in the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Mary Portas

Creative director and presenter

(1960–)

A leading figure in retail and branding, Portas became creative director of Harvey Nichols in 1989 and in 1997 launched a creative advertising agency, going on to create TV shows and write extensively on branding in retail.

Ken Robinson

Author and speaker

(1950–2020)

Sir Ken Robinson was a successful author, speaker and education adviser with the ear of governments, education institutions and arts bodies. He was director of the ‘Arts in Schools’ project and Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick. ‘Do schools kill creativity?’, his 2006 TED Talk, is one of the most watched ever. He was knighted for services to the arts in 2003.

Herbie Hancock

Jazz musician

(1940–)

Jazz musician and composer Herbie Hancock has collected 14 Grammy Awards throughout his career, including Album of the Year in 2007 for River: The Joni Letters. He was part of the Miles Davis Quintet and experimented widely with sound, particularly on his album Head Hunters. He is a professor at the University of California and Chair of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.

David Puttnam

Film producer

(1941–)

Lord Puttnam is a British-Irish film producer whose productions include Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express. He received a Bafta in 1982 and the Bafta Fellowship in 2006. He was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1995 and a life peer in 1997 and was granted a seat in the House of Lords in 2007, from which he retired in 2021.

Michael Faraday by Pyotr Kovalenko

Michael Faraday

Scientist

(1791–1867)

Michael Faraday was a member of the City Philosophical Society whose work contributed greatly to the understanding of electromagnetism. He made several groundbreaking contributions to science, including the invention of the world’s first electric generator. A chairman of the Chemistry Committee for 11 years, he was awarded the RSA’s Albert Medal in 1866 “for discoveries in electricity, magnetism and chemistry”.

Dame Zarine Kharas by Pyotr Kovalenko

Dame Zarine Kharas

Co-founder, JustGiving

(1951–)

Kharas co-founded JustGiving, the world’s leading online fundraising platform. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, studied law at Cambridge and, eventually, became a corporate law solicitor. She launched JustGiving with co-founder Anne-Marie Huby in 2000, raising more than £4bn cumulatively before leaving the organisation in 2017. In 2015, she was made a Dame Commander in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Colin Powell

Politician

(1937–2021)

An army general and statesman, Powell was the 65th US secretary of state. He won numerous US and foreign military awards as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, twice, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Mary Robinson

Former president of Ireland

(1944–)

Mary Robinson became the seventh president of Ireland in 1990 and served until September 1997. She was the first woman and the first independent to hold the country’s highest political office. Following her time as president, in 1997 Robinson became the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has received praise for her work in the fields of sexuality, contraception and gender equality.

Dominique Palmer

Activist

(1999–)

Dominique Palmer became a climate campaigner and speaker when she discovered how air pollution affected her community in South London. She has spoken at major events such as Cop 26 and was included on Forbes’ 2020 list of top UK environmentalists.

Karan Bilimoria

Businessman

(1961–)

Lord Bilimoria is a British-Indian businessman and member of the House of Lords. He founded the brand Cobra Beer in 1989 and turned it into a global success with a multi-million-pound turnover, before it was partially acquired by drinks giant Molson Coors. Bilimoria is a crossbench member of the House of Lords, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and Vice President of the Confederation of British Industry.

Zandra Rhodes

Fashion designer

(1940–)

Zandra Rhodes’ 50-year fashion career has garnered a slew of awards, including Designer of the Year, the Walpole British Luxury Legend Award and an Emmy for costume design. Her unique style earned her the nickname ‘Princess of Punk’.

Timothy West

Actor

(1934–)

Timothy West is a British actor with a decades-long career spanning stage, screen and radio. He has played Macbeth twice and King Lear four times, as well as characters on long-running British soap operas EastEnders and Coronation Street. With his wife, actress Prunella Scales, he is a patron of the Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham and the Kings Theatre in Gloucester. He was awarded a CBE in 1984.

Hannah Lena Rebel

Composer and author

(2001–)

Austria-based composer, choreographer and author Rebel studied at the Vienna State Opera, the University of Music and Arts, Prayner Conservatory for composition and conducting and the University for Music and Performing Arts for composition and film scoring.

Tim Berners-Lee

Scientist

(1955–)

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is known for inventing the World Wide Web to accelerate information-sharing between scientists in different institutions. He was knighted in 2004 and received the Turing Award in 2016. He chairs the W3C Consortium, which oversees development of the web, is a Senior Researcher at MIT, a Trustee of the Ford Foundation and President of the Open Data Institute.

Kirthi Jayakumar by Pyotr Kovalenko

Kirthi Jayakumar

Lawyer and activist

(1987–)

Peace educator Kirthi Jayakumar is a Commonwealth Scholar, serves as an adviser to the G7 and was named one of UN Women’s 30 for 2030. She is head of community engagement at World Pulse and founded the Gender Security Project, a feminist initiative working towards peace, security and justice. Previously, she founded The Red Elephant Foundation, an initiative for peacebuilding and gender equality.

Barbara Ehrenreich by Pyotr Kovalenko

Barbara Ehrenreich

Author and activist

(1941–2022)

Barbara Ehrenreich was an award-winning American author best known for her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed, which recounted her experiences working a series of minimum-wage jobs and helped galvanise the movement for better pay during the US dotcom bust. Her honours include a Lannan Literary Award and the Erasmus Prize, given for exceptional contributions to the humanities, social sciences or the arts.

Benjamin Franklin

Statesman

(1706–1790)

A well-known American polymath, Franklin had a long-standing association with the Society of Arts. He corresponded often and, while resident in England, was actively involved with the Society through supporting the Premium Award Scheme.

Nelson Mandela

Politician and campaigner

(1918–2013)

Nelson Mandela became the first president of South Africa in 1994, just four years after being released from a 27-year prison term. Dedicated to dismantling apartheid-era policies, he received more than 250 honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

Karl Marx

Political theorist and economist

(1818–1883)

Famous as an architect of modern social science, Marx’s best-known publication is The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, which expanded on the labour theory of value. His 1862 letter accepting membership of the Society survives in the RSA archive to this day.

Jane Boyd

Artist

(1953–)

Jane Boyd is a British artist best known for her work in light-based installation and drawing. Exhibiting internationally since 1986, Boyd was the first woman to be elected Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts, awarded by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Dan Matthews is a journalist and writer for the national and trade press; he presents a YouTube show under the name ‘Mr Obscura’.

Pyotr Kovalenko is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Tartu, Estonia. He uses only pen, ink and paper.

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  • How 'surprising' to see our journal erase the socialism of Barbara Ehrenreich and Karl Marx. Having worked with Barbara early on, I know she will be turning in her grave at the current anti worker anti union conduct by RSA leaders

  • What a wonderful talented list of Fellows. I am humbled to be part of this legacy. Thank you.

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