What Defines A National Treasure?

It seems these days that anyone who has been in the public eye for more than about two minutes is in line to becoming dubbed a national treasure.

The fabricated title of 'national treasure' was once reserved for figures who enjoyed the affection of a large part of the nation, say, Stephen Fry or Joanna Lumley, for those in the United Kingdom. Maybe Betty White would be considered an American national treasure.


If you aspire to be one, your best bet is to be nearing the end of a long career on television or the big screen. Elderly or retired sports commentators are guaranteed national treasure status too, with Clare Balding as the current favourite to be a future national treasure. But why these people, why are they deserving of this epithet?

National treasures are largely old (Sir David Attenborough, Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Judi Dench) and bear some notable status within society (
Sir David Attenborough, Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Judi Dench). It is often down to journalists and reporters to tell us who has qualified as a national treasure and who hasn't made the running.

But it is chiefly the fault of the tabloid press that the number of people dubbed a national treasure has sky-rocketed in recent years. We're living in a time where someone like Katie Price or she who shall not be named (KH) could be called a national treasure on the front page of The Sun. An article by The Independent listed Margaret Thatcher as a greater national treasure than Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Dare I suggest that all this treasure has become devalued?

Is there any point in having this as some sort of heralded title when it will just end up being replaced by some other aggrandised name not long down the line due it suddenly losing its credibility?

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