Sir Bill? Not quite. Proclaiming himself "humbled and delighted," Microsoft founder Bill Gates received an honorary knighthood Wednesday from Queen Elizabeth II — an accolade that allows the recipient to use "KBE" after his name, but not to put "Sir" in front of it.
One of the world's richest men, Gates, 49, was being honored for his charitable activities around the world and his contribution to enterprise in Britain. Past recipients of the honorary knighthood range from Irish singer Bob Geldof to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
"This honor is particularly poignant given the deep connections Microsoft enjoys with the United Kingdom," said Gates, whose company employs about 2,000 people in Britain.
Gates' royal honor — bestowed by the queen on the advice of the government — was announced in January 2004, but a "mutually convenient" date to receive it had not been available until now.
British recipients of knighthoods are entitled to be addressed with a "Sir" before their names. The honor was long the preserve of senior soldiers, judges and other servants of the state, but recent years have seen the creation of Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Elton John.
As an American, Gates is not entitled to use "Sir" before his name, but he can put the initials KBE — Knight Commander of the British Empire — after his name.
Gates joins a roster of American knights that includes former presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, comedian Bob Hope, retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Gates said he was proud of what he called Microsoft's "special relationship" with Britain. "The U.K. was the first country in which Microsoft set up a subsidiary outside the U.S., and our experience in the U.K. has been significant in shaping our international growth," he said.
Microsoft's British facilities include Research Cambridge, a laboratory established in 1997 in the university town that employs 80 scientists. In 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a donation of $210 million to Cambridge University to create a scholarship program for graduate students from outside Britain.
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