Choosing banknote characters

We have featured characters on the back of our banknotes since William Shakespeare appeared on the £20 note in 1970. It allows us to celebrate people who have shaped UK society through their thought innovation, leadership or values.


We want the characters who make it onto our banknotes to come from different backgrounds and fields.  When selecting a new character, we take into account who has featured on notes in the past. This means that our choices can reflect the diversity of UK society.

Of course, banknotes need to be universally accepted. We therefore look for UK characters who have made an important contribution to our society and culture through their innovation, leadership or values. We do not include fictional characters, or people who are still living (except the monarch on the front of the note). Finally, we need to have a suitable portrait of the person which will be easy to recognise.

Who is involved in selecting a new banknote character?

In 2014, we introduced a new method of selecting banknote characters: the Banknote Character Advisory Committee selects the field that we want to represent and specialists in that chosen field join the Committee. We then ask the public to nominate people from the chosen field.

For example, in 2015, we announced that we would feature someone from the visual arts on the next £20 note. There was a huge response to the call for nominations: nearly 30,000 were made, covering 590 people from the visual arts. These included painters, sculptors, printmakers, craftspeople, designers, ceramicists, architects, fashion designers, photographers and filmmakers.

More recently, we announced that we would feature someone who has contributed to science on the next £50 note.

PDFList of characters nominated to appear on the new £20 note

From these public nominations, the Committee creates a longlist of candidates.

How is the final selection made?

We run focus groups to help us identify which characters on the longlist would resonate strongly with people, and which might cause concern.

The committee then agrees a final shortlist, based on the focus group feedback and detailed historical research about each of the characters. The shortlist also reflects our intention to portray a diverse range of characters over time.

PDFCharacter shortlist

The final decision about who will appear on the next banknote is made by the Governor. In 2016, we announced that the artist JMW Turner would appear on the next £20 note.

This page was last updated 06 November 2018
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