Bradford-born artist David Hockney today revealed the reasons why he turned down a knighthood from the Queen saying: "I don't rate prizes."

The world-famous Bradford Art College-trained painter was among 300 names who were revealed to have turned down an honour over the last 40 years.

He was offered a knighthood in 1990 which he turned down. He was made a Freeman of the City of Bradford, and made Companion of Honour in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 1997.

Mr Hockney was one of a family of seven who was born in Bradford on July 9, 1937 and attended Bradford Boys Grammar School and Bradford College of Art in Great Horton Road.

But he told the Telegraph & Argus today: "I do not think life is about prizes. I put them all in the bottom drawer and leave them there. I don't value prizes of any sort. I value my friends. Prizes of a any sort are a bit suspect.

"I turned it down because at the time I was living in America and did not think it was for me but I don't have strong feelings about the honours system. I do not care for a fuss.

"But in the end I changed my mind because you have to be gracious. And I am always a companion of honour."

The information about those who refused honours, covering more than 40 years, is in secret Whitehall files leaked to The Sunday Times.

Mr Hockney said the names should never have been revealed.

He added: "If people declined an honour that is their private decision and it should stay that way. People should be able to decide without it being all over the papers.

"I think it is terrible. There is too much self-hatred in England. In America they rather like themselves."

Mr Hockney is in London for Christmas but is based in the States.

David Bowie, celebrity cook Nigella Lawson and comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were among those who have refused honours, it was claimed.

An inquiry to find the source of the leak was now under way.

Novelist JG Ballard, James Bond leading lady Honor Blackman and jazz musician George Melly have all turned down honours under Blair, but the documents include the names of scores of famous people who have declined honours offered by prime ministers on behalf of the Queen since the Second World War.

Compiled by the Cabinet Office's ceremonial branch, the list of almost 300 names includes author Graham Greene, artist David Hockney, writer John le Carre, poet Robert Graves, author Aldous Huxley and writer and journalist Evelyn Waugh.

Other names on the list include writer J B Priestley, novellist Anthony Powell, children's author Roald Dahl, poet Philip Larkin, as well as actors Trevor Howard and Alastair Sim.

LS Lowry, the painter, appears to have turned down more than anyone - a total of five awards including a knighthood, CBE and OBE.

Actor Albert Finney not only rejected a knighthood in 2000 but the documents show he also turned down a CBE in 1980.

Even film director Alfred Hitchcock refused a CBE in 1962, although he accepted a knighthood shortly before he died according to the newspaper.

It said the list was used to warn officials that "refuseniks" should not be approached again because they have already rejected honours.

The Cabinet Office is now conducting a probe after a leak of internal minutes of the main honours committee, published by The Sunday Times last weekend.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said today: "There will be an investigation to trace the source of the leak."

The secret list, in documents marked "refusals" are not even released under the 30-year rule after which many government papers are normally made public.

Playwright Michael Frayn is one of five people to have refused knighthoods or their equivalent in recent years.

He turned down the honour for the 2003 new year's list, according to The Sunday Times.

He told the paper: "There is something slightly ludicrous about the system."

Under Major, the list of "refuseniks" included the playwright Alan Bennett, who turned down a knighthood and John Cleese who turned down a CBE, and Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One racing boss and would-be Labour Party donor, turned down a CBE "for services to motor racing".

Actor Kenneth Branagh rejected a CBE in 1994 while Helen Mirren, star of the Prime Suspect television series, turned down a CBE for services to drama in 1996 but then agreed to become a Dame of the British Empire after new Labour took power.

Up to one in five on the "refusenik" list subsequently accepted an honour.

Very few of those who have refused honours have gone public to explain their position.

Rastafarian poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, was widely criticised by commentators last month after he revealed he rejected an OBE because the medals symbolised colonialism and Britain's association with slavery.

A Downing Street spokesman said today they would not comment on issues arising out of leaked documents.