From starring on YouTube to discovering the elemental source of matter in the universe, Brits are at the top. Here are Raconteur’s 21 most influential British men and women, each with an extraordinary power to shape minds and lives around the globe
Bernie Ecclestone, entrepreneur
At the Moscow Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone hung out with his pals Vladimir Putin and King Hamad of Bahrain. He’s also known to party with P Diddy and Ginger Spice. Bernie’s been the king of Formula 1 since the 1970s. The drivers are terrified of him. Eccentric? Yes. Mysterious and undeniably powerful? Absolutely.
Sir Jony Ive, designer
Apple is the world’s most valuable company and Sir Jony Ive is a big reason why. He joined Apple in 1992 and soon became head of design. His first hit was the iMac. Then came the iPhone. Steve Jobs called him his “spiritual partner at Apple” as the two developed an ethos of Zen minimalism.
Emma Watson, actress
Movie star turned world-prominent feminist, in 2014 Emma Waton became UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launching the UN Women HeForShe campaign, calling for men to back gender equality. She’s the perfect choice. Her reach is phenomenal – she has five million more Twitter followers than the singer Beyoncé.
Zaha Hadid, architect
Once slated as the architect who got nothing built, Zaha Hadid is now the world’s foremost designer of national showpieces. Works include China’s Guangzhou Opera House, Spain’s Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, the London Aquatics Centre and the Jockey Club Tower in Hong Kong. A British-Iraqi, she is now working on Iraq’s new national parliament.
Sam and Dan Houser, games designers
Computer games are bigger than Hollywood, and the game of the decade has to be Grand Theft Auto, created by Sam and Dan Houser’s Rockstar Games. The brothers grew up in London. The first GTA appeared in 1999. In 2013, GTA V took $1billion in three days on launch, making it the most successful entertainment product of all time.
Sir Martin Sorrell, entrepreneur
The only British founder and chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, Sir Martin Sorrell is the master of growth by acquisition. WPP soaks up rivals in advertising and marketing, and now employs 179,000 people in 3,000 offices in 111 countries. A polymath, Sir Martin loves speaking at conferences and mixing with politicians. Favourite subject? The rise of China, where he is building a power-base.
Andrew Wiles, mathematician
As a boy Andrew Wiles heard about a famous puzzle called Fermat’s Last Theorem. Generations of mathematicians had searched for a proof. He devoted seven years to its solution. He fused disparate branches of maths to finally solve the theorem in 1994. Fame and adulation followed. The Royal Society calls him “almost unique among number-theorists”.
J.K. Rowling, author
French Harry Potter has a baguette magique (a wand). In Indonesian the Hogwarts pupils eat kacang segala rasa Bertie Bott (Bertie Bott’s beans). There are more than 70 translations of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter. It is the number-one-selling book series of all time. The movies are the number-two franchise by revenue. She has entranced children worldwide, and given Britain’s image a rosy glow.
Sir James Gurdon, cloning pioneer
Amusingly Sir James Gurdon came bottom of his biology class at school. At Oxford he switched from classics to zoology and went on to specialise in cell nuclei. His work on nuclear transplantation and cloning won him the Nobel Prize in 2012, and is instrumental in creating new medical techniques which are revolutionising human longevity. If you get a kidney transplant grown from scratch, thank him.
Zoella, YouTube star
Teenagers are hooked on Zoe Sugg’s YouTube channel for guidance on make-up, relationships and life. Zoella, as she’s known, is a pretty, bouncy, clean-cut 25-year old. The latest figures rate her channel at 540 million total visits. Advertisers know online broadcasting is the future and stars like Zoella are pioneers.
Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief executive
English football is the world’s favourite. Richard Scudamore has made sure of that. His tenure as boss of the Premier League has lifted it clear of Italy’s Serie A or Spain’s La Liga. Scudamore masterminded prime-time deals in China, India and South-East Asia. His one missed goal is to arrange an additional league match overseas.
David Cameron, politician
In politics the prime minister has no real rivals. The mayor of London is visible, yet lacks national power. The chancellor holds the purse strings, but can be sacked. With a recent election win under his belt, David Cameron seems untouchable in British politics. He is the ultimate decision-maker on UK policy at home and abroad.
Peter Higgs, physicist
Stephen Hawking was wrong. He bet Peter Higgs that his hypothesis of a “god particle” giving mass to atoms was wrong. In 2012 the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland reported the discovery of the Higgs boson. The man himself celebrated with a bottle of London Pride beer. His Nobel Prize was a just reward for a profound contribution to our understanding of the universe.
Sir Andrew Witty, pharma boss
Britain’s pharmaceutical sector is a huge success story, with star names such as AstraZeneca, Shire and GlaxoSmithKline. Andrew Witty has run GSK since 2008. He’s overseen a long period of growth and now GSK is the UK’s fourth largest company. He is known for his work in making drugs more affordable in developing nations and promoting collaboration with rivals.
Simon Segars, chip maker
All smartwatches, smartphones, laptops, desktops and servers use chips developed by Cambridge-based ARM Holdings. The company doesn’t make the chips, but designs them and licenses the intellectual property. Boss Simon Segers has done a remarkable job cementing ARM’s position as Apple’s chip partner of choice and expanding his client portfolio to include pretty much every handset maker in the world.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Hollywood A-listers get a downgrade when Kate is in town. The Duchess of Cambridge is the future Queen of 16 nations and the current star of British public life. The “Kate Middleton effect” sees a rush for anything she wears. Prince William’s wife is one of the faces of Britain and will remain so even when their daughter Princess Charlotte enters the public gaze.
Steven Cowley, nuclear physicist
He may not be a celebrity, but he holds two big roles. Steven Cowley is chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and head of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, working on the European project to create a workable fusion reactor. If achieved, fusion could offer near limitless low-cost power.
Alain de Botton, philosopher
Shelley remarked “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Philosophers today have a better claim. Alain de Botton’s belief that reflection and debate can bring solace to our chaotic lives is gaining more and more supporters. Philosophy must teach us to live, he says. Try Essays in Love, written when he was just 23.
Sir David Attenborough, naturalist
President Obama talks about being brought up on Attenborough documentaries. The Chinese love his stuff so much the national broadcaster co-funds his work. Sir David Attenborough has been the foremost champion and chronicler of the natural world for more than six decades.
Sir Paul McCartney, musician
Just a few innovations by The Beatles – the music video, use of feedback loops, concept albums, stadium rock, over-dubbing and experimentation in pop. Rolling Stone magazine rates the Fab Four as the greatest rock‘n’roll artists of all time. Sir Paul McCartney is undiminished. It’s only when you see the reception he gets in Tel Aviv or Verona or Brazil’s Belo Horizonte that you can appreciate what he means to people the world over.