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. First, our Banknote Character Advisory Committee selects the field we want to represent and invites specialists in that field to join the committee. Then we ask the public to nominate people from the chosen field.

In 2015, we used this method for the first time. The artist JMW Turner was chosen to appear on our polymer £20 note.

In 2018, we received 227,299 nominations from the public for a scientist to appear on our polymer £50 note. The Advisory Committee considered these nominations and in July 2019, we announced that Alan Turing will feature on the note.

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.

The final decision about who will appear on the next banknote is made by the Governor.

This page was last updated 31 January 2023