Great Britain has produced great Britons, but who is the greatest?

The BBC has compiled a list of the 100 greatest Britons as voted for by the great British public. Places 100 down to 11 are listed here. Over the next 5 weeks we can all vote to place the top 10 greatest Britons (as nominated by the public) into an order of merit. Cast your vote here! You can only vote from the list of 10 people shown.

What an interesting list. There are obvious names (Darwin, Shakespeare and Churchill), not so immediately obvious but great names (Cromwell, Nelson, Newton and Elizabeth I), unexpected names (Brunel and Lennon) and one baffling name (Diana, Princess of Wales). To paraphrase Monty Python, Diana, what did she ever do for us? One of the factoids listed on the BBC’s bio page for Diana as part of this voting exercise is “The 25ft train on Diana’s wedding dress was the longest Royal train ever designed.” True greatness indeed.

It’s reassuring to see scientists in the top 10, and personally, as a trained biological scientist my vote would go to Darwin. Actually my top vote (from the list given to us) is equally split between Darwin and Shakespeare. I am not a particularly literary person but Shakespeare must surely deserve the title of greatest Briton for being the quintessential English literary genius and therefore possibly the person who most usually comes to mind when thinking of all things British.

Who’s in my top 10 list? It’s very difficult to compile a list I’d be satisfied with as it’d very likely change over time. If you’d had asked me 10 years ago it’d doubtless have been a very different list from one I might compile 10 years from now. And what criteria would I use to compile the list? People who I think other people would regard as the greatest Britons regardless of whether I liked or admired or appreciated their achievements (Dickens would fall into that category, undoubtedly a great Briton but does nothing for me), or should it be an honest list of people who’ve made some form of impression on me? The BBC define the following criteria:

Legacy – How much influence has he had on the world today
Genius – how original/brilliant was he?
Leadership – how great a leader was he?
Bravery – how courageous was he?
Compassion – how compassionate was he?

However, right now, my list might contain, in no definite order:

Charles Darwin (changed the world for ever and inspired the Jungle Book song – Oh, oobee doo
I wanna be like you)
William Shakespeare (how did he manage to get so many famous quotes into all his plays?)
William Blake (artistic genius – what immortal hand or eye framed his wonderful paintings)
Alfred the Great (united Britain, well, England making this list possible)
Oliver Cromwell (oversaw the only period in our history when we were a republic – I am not a royalist)
Winston Churchill (if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last[s] for a thousand years, men will say, “This was their finest hour.” – the greatest quote of all time? Shakespeare didn’t manage to get this one in)
John Peel (responsible for introducing me to much of the music I listen to thereby in some small part making me the person I am today)
Peter Sellers (just thinking about him makes me laugh)
John Lennon (artistic genius who’s death stopped him making crap records into old age)
Er, that’s it. The final place in my top 10 is reserved for everyone else I like, admire and respect that to add in or leave out of the list would likely depend upon the time of day, day of week or what I was feeling like at the time.

Who’s in your top 10?