33 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Singers Of All Time

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

When you think about famous British vocalists, the first names that might come to mind are David Bowie, John Lennon, and Elton John. With one of the largest music industries in the world, the United Kingdom has produced singers of all types of genres.

Some of the most legendary musicians changed the culture of music during the British Invasion in the mid-1960s, but other notable British singers have taken the world by storm.

Read on to see who made our list of 33 of the greatest and most famous British singers of all time.

1. David Bowie

One of the most successful and influential singers in the 20th century, David Bowie was an icon in music, pop culture, and film for his eccentricity, experimental music, and innovative style.

Bowie entered the music scene in 1963 and first topped charts with his song “Space Oddity” in 1969. During the glam rock era in the 1970s, he created Ziggy Stardust, his androgynous alter ego that gained immense popularity.

Bowie also collaborated with many other famous musicians to co-write songs such as “Fame” with John Lennon, “Under Pressure” with Queen, and “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger.

In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, since his debut, has sold over 100 million records worldwide.

2. Adele

“Chasing Pavements” singer Adele is one of the world’s best-selling singers, with over 150 million records sold worldwide. She rose to fame with her debut album, 19, in 2008. The album later received eight-times Platinum certification in the UK and, in the US, triple Platinum. 

Her album 21 is the best-performing album in US chart history for topping the Billboard 200 for 24 consecutive weeks. This album achieved Diamond status in the US and 17x platinum in the UK, the highest of all time by a solo artist.

Some of Adele’s hits include “Rolling in the Deep,” “Set Fire to the Rain,” and “Someone Like You.” She has won 15 Grammy Awards and 12 Brit Awards and was appointed MBE at the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2013 for her contributions to music.

3. Elton John

Songwriters and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elton John has been producing music since the 1970s. He is known for his flamboyant style and talented piano compositions.

He started playing piano at a young age and formed the band Bluesology, which he played with from 1962 to 1967. Soon after, he released his first hit in the UK and the US, “Your Song.”

During the ’70s and ’80s, John dropped several albums, many of which topped UK charts. One of his top-selling singles is “Candle in the Wind 1997,” which he wrote as a tribute to Princess Diana.

Elton John has sold over 300 million records worldwide, and over 50 of his songs have been in the top 40 hits in the UK and US Billboard’s Hot 100.

4. Freddie Mercury

Known as the lead singer and frontman for the band Queen, Freddie Mercury is considered one of the greatest rock music singers. His theatrical stage presence and four-octave range set him apart from other rock singers during his time.

In 1970, he formed the band Queen with Brian May, the guitarist, and Roger Taylor, the drummer. Some of the most famous songs he wrote for the band include “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions.”

After his death, Mercury was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 as part of Queen. In 2003, he got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004.

5. Amy Winehouse

Though Amy Winehouse had a short-lived career, she found immense success with her expressive vocals in singing a variety of genres. Winehouse found fame in 2003 with her first album, Frank. Most of the songs on the album were co-written by her.

Her second album, Back to Black, became the best-selling album in the UK, and she was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2007 Brit Awards. The following year, she became the first British woman to win five Grammy Awards.

After her death from alcohol poisoning in 2011, Back to Black once again found popularity and became the best-selling album in the UK during the 21st century. Some of her most memorable songs are “Valerie,” “Rehab,” and “Stronger than Me.”

Sadly, she died far too soon at the young age of 27, which sent shockwaves through the music industry and her fans worldwide. The talented singer-songwriter had battled with substance abuse issues throughout her career, and her struggle with addiction led to her death.

Related: Read about some of the other most famous 27 club members here.

6. John Lennon

Legendary singer-songwriter John Lennon was known for his innovative music and social activism. With the Beatles, Lennon pushed the boundaries of music with his witty lyrics and experimental style.

He wrote dozens of songs for the Beatles with Paul McCartney and found continued success after quitting the band to become a solo artist.

Lennon was a political activist later in life, and he used his music to take a stand against social and political issues such as the Vietnam War, writing antiwar songs like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine.” 

After his tragic death, Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as part of the Beatles and in 1994 as a solo musician.

7. Paul McCartney

Most famous for his involvement with the Beatles, Paul McCartney is one of the world’s most successful musicians today. He was born in 1942 in Liverpool and taught himself guitar, piano, and songwriting.

He was an integral part of the Beatles from 1960 to 1970 and co-wrote dozens of highly successful songs with John Lennon.

After the Beatles disbanded, McCartney founded another band with his wife, Linda, called Wings. They had enormous success in the 1970s, with many of his songs topping international charts.

McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as part of the Beatles and again in 1999 as a solo artist. He has also won 18 Grammy awards and was knighted in 1997 for his services to music.

Related: Did you know Paul McCartney doesn’t eat meat? Read about other famous vegetarian singers here.

8. Mick Jagger

If you know the Rolling Stones, one of the most popular and lasting rock bands from the 1960s, you most likely have heard of Mick Jagger. He wrote most of the songs for the band with guitarist Keith Richards, including hits such as “Paint It Black” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

He first released solo recordings in 1985 and joined the band Superheavy in 2009. However, most of his success has come as the frontman of the Rolling Stones. 

Jagger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004. He was also knighted for his contribution to music just before this.

9. Brian Johnson

English singer-songwriter Brian Johnson was the third lead vocalist of the band AC/DC in 1980 when he was asked to audition for the position. He is known for his distinctive voice and strong accent.

Johnson first played with a band called Gobi Desert Canoe Club and later became part of the cabaret band the Jasper Hart Band, which performed popular musical and soft-rock songs.

In 1971, he went on to form the band Geordie with a few other members, but it split up in 1978. 

After joining AC/DC in 1980, they recorded the album Back in Black, which found worldwide success that year. In 2014, he received an honorary doctorate in music from Northumbria University in Newcastle.

10. Ozzy Osbourne

Informally known as the Godfather of Metal, Ozzy Osbourne was the lead singer for the heavy metal band Black Sabbath during the 1970s.

After getting fired from the band in 1979 due to his addiction to alcohol and drug, he found immense success as a solo artist. He released 12 albums and received eight multi-Platinum certifications. In 1997, he rejoined Black Sabbath and recorded their final album, 13.

Osbourne was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 as a member of Black Sabbath and as a solo artist, and the following year, he was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as both a band member and solo artist. 

11. Phil Collins

Known for his unique tone and high vocal range, Phil Collins started his music career as first the drummer for the rock band Genesis in 1970, then as the lead singer in 1975.

In 1981, he started his solo career and released successful pop and soul music. Some of his most recognizable songs from the ’80s are “In the Air Tonight” and “Another Day in Paradise.”

Collins also composed music for Disney’s animated films Tarzan and Brother Bear. “You’ll Be in My Heart,” from the Tarzan soundtrack, earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song.

Overall, he has sold about 150 million records worldwide. In 2003, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.

12. Seal

Next up we have singer-songwriter Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, known simply as Seal. Born in 1963, in London, England, he began his musical journey in the late 1980; however, it was in the early 1990s that he truly rose to fame as a solo artist.

His self-titled debut album, released in 1991, became a huge success. It featured the hit singles “Killer” and “Crazy.” The former song reached the top of the UK Singles Chart, and the album itself received critical acclaim, establishing Seal as a notable figure in the music industry.

Then in 1994, Seal released his most iconic song, “Kiss from a Rose.” It was featured on the soundtrack of the film Batman Forever and went on to win three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

As an influential figure in the British music scene, Seal brought a unique style and sound that combined elements of soul, pop, and R&B—music that continues to capture the hearts of many listeners.

13. Annie Lennox

Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox first started as a member of the new-wave band Tourists in the late 1970s.

When the band split up, she and band member Dave Stewart formed a new duo called the Eurythmics. They produced popular songs such as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart).” 

In 1992, she moved on to a solo career and recorded hit singles such as “Why” and “Walking on Broken Glass.”

Lennox is known for her contralto vocal range and for singing soul music. She has won eight Brit Awards, including Best British Female Artist six times.

14. Sade

Though born in Nigeria, Sade—full name Helen Folasade Adu—was raised in England since she was four. In the early 1980s, she began her career in music, and her smooth and soulful vocals quickly caught the attention of listeners.

Soon, she formed a band called Sade with Stuart Matthewman, Paul Denman, and Andrew Hale. They debuted in 1984 with the album Diamond Life, which became a massive success. Featuring the hits “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love Is King,” it catapulted Sade to international fame.

Following the success of their first album, Sade continued to create beautiful music that audiences adored, like “Paradise,” “Kiss of Life,” “No Ordinary Love,” and “Soldier of Love.”

Throughout her career, Sade received numerous accolades and awards for her musical contributions. She earned four Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist in 1986 and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “No Ordinary Love” in 1994.

15. Billy Ocean

Leslie Sebastian Charles—that’s Billy Ocean to fans—was born in Trinidad and Tobago. When he was 10, he moved to London, and as a teen, he slowly developed his singing career in local clubs while working as a tailor.

His breakthrough came in 1984 with the release of the album Suddenly, which featured the chart-topping hit “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run).” It also won Ocean a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Following the success of “Caribbean Queen,” Ocean continued to deliver a string of chart-topping hits throughout the 1980s. Some of his best-known songs include “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car.”

Throughout his career, Ocean has remained a beloved and respected figure in the music industry. With his contributions, he brought a fresh sound and helped popularize the fusion of R&B and pop music.

16. Rod Stewart

Popular for his raspy voice, Rod Stewart has sold over 250 million records worldwide, with 10 albums at #1 in the UK and 31 singles in the top ten.

He first joined the Dimensions in 1963 as a singer and harmonica player. After that, he joined several bands while starting a solo career on the side in 1969.

His breakthrough album was Every Picture Tells a Story in 1971, which topped the charts in the US, UK, and Australia. He received the 1993 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music and a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in 2005.

In 2001, he was the first-ever to receive the Diamond Award at the World Music Awards for selling over 100 million records worldwide, and during the 2016 Birthday Honours, Stewart was knighted for his contributions to music and charity.

17. George Michael

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou—or George Michael, as he’s more popularly known—became a star as part of the musical duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981.

Their hit singles include “Wake Me Up before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas,” which still gets played every winter season. In 1984, Michael found success with his first solo single, “Careless Whisper,” which reached #1 on charts in more than 20 countries.

In 1989, he was the best-selling musical artist with his debut solo album Faith, receiving Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. He sold over 120 million records worldwide and won two more Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, and several others during his lifetime.

18. Olivia Newton-John

Most famously known for her role as Sandy in the musical film adaptation of Grease (1978), Olivia Newton-John had an extensive musical career.

Born in Cambridge, England, Newton-John emigrated to Australia when she was six and started performing in coffee shops and on Australian radio and TV shows at 14 years old.

She recorded “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” her first single, in England in 1966 with Decca Records.

She won four Grammy Awards and reached five number-one hits in the US. Two of her albums, If You Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975), reached #1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

19. Leona Lewis

From Islington, London, Leona Lewis started as a contestant on The X Factor, where she won a one-million pound recording contract in 2006.

Her cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” reached 50,000 digital downloads within 30 minutes, breaking a world record. The following year, Lewis released her debut album, Spirit, and it received a ten-time Platinum certification in the UK.

Her single “Bleeding Love” was #1 in the UK for seven weeks and became the best-selling single in 2007. In the US, the song was the best-selling single of 2008.

For her works, she has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and two Brit Awards and has won two World Music Awards, an MTV Europe Music Award, and two MOBO Awards.

20. Ed Sheeran

One of the most popular British singer-songwriters in pop music today is probably Ed Sheeran. He has sold over 150 million records worldwide, and still counting.

Sheeran started writing music at 11 years old and independently released his first project in 2011 called No. 5 Collaborations Project. Later that year, he found fame with his debut studio album, + (plus), which topped several charts.

Sheeran won the Best British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards in 2012.

Some of his most famous songs include “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” which broke chart records in several countries by debuting at the top two spots.

Sheeran has collaborated in writing music and performing with other musicians such as Elton John, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift, to name a few.

21. Sam Smith

“Stay with Me” singer Sam Smith first entered the music scene in 2012 when they featured on “Latch,” Disclosure’s breakthrough single. They later featured on Naughty Boy’s song “La La La” in 2013, which reached #1 on the UK charts. 

Their debut album, In the Lonely Hour (2014), was a chart-topper in the UK as well as in other countries. It won four awards after its release at the Grammy Awards and two more nominations.

Smith wrote “Writing’s on the Wall” for the movie Spectre (2015), which won a Golden Globe Award for Academy Award for Best Original Song.

As of 2021, Smith has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and received several awards, including four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, three Billboard Music Awards, and one American Music Award.

22. Harry Styles

One of the most recognizable singers today, Harry Styles, is a singer-songwriter and actor who first skyrocketed to fame as a member of One Direction.

In 2017, he released his eponymous solo debut album with Columbia Records. It topped in the UK and US charts. Two years later, he dropped Fine Line. It debuted at #1 on Billboard 200 and had the most first-week sales in history for an English male artist.

One of his most popular singles, “Watermelon Sugar,” won him a Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance and Single of the Year Brit Award in 2021.

23. Dua Lipa

Another prominent figure in the music industry is Dua Lipa. Rising to fame in 2017 with her self-titled debut album, she quicklfy captivated listeners with her mezzo-soprano voice.

Dua Lipa spawned multiple hit singles. One of her most successful songs from it was “New Rules,” which topped the charts in several countries, including the UK and US, and became an anthem of female empowerment.

Following the success of her debut album, Dua Lipa continued to make waves in the music scene, releasing more chart-topping hits, like “One Kiss” and “Cold Heart (Pnau remix).”

Dua Lipa’s impact on the music industry has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades. She has won multiple Brit Awards, including Best British Female Solo Artist in 2021, solidifying her status as one of the most promising talents in contemporary pop music.

24. Ellie Goulding

Our next singer, Ellie Goulding, started writing songs at age 15. In her final year of university, she met Jamie Lillywhite, her future manager, who introduced her to the record producer Starsmith.

Soon after, in 2010, she dropped her debut album, Lights. It was a great success, reaching #1 on the UK Albums chart.

In November the same year, the album was re-released as Bright Lights with six more songs, including a cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.” Her single “Lights” peaked at #2 in the US, her highest-charting single to date.

In 2014, Goulding received a Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist. Her song “Love Me Like You Do” earned her first Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2015.

25. Sting

Though best known for being the frontman of the band the Police, Sting also had a very successful solo career.

He started performing in local clubs with jazz bands, and one of his bandmates gave him the nickname Sting because of the black-and-yellow striped sweater he wore during performances.

He moved to London in 1977 after teaching for two years, where he formed the Police with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Henri Padovani. In 1983, the group won two Grammy Awards and Song of the Year for “Every Breath You Take.” 

The next year, the group disbanded, and Sting embarked on his solo career. Overall, he has won 17 Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, and four Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song.

26. Tom Jones

Next, let’s talk about legendary British singer Tom Jones. From Pontypridd, Wales, Jones began his musical journey in the 1960s, where his dynamic blend of rock, pop, and soul set him apart from other artists of the time.

His breakthrough came with the release of his hit single “It’s Not Unusual,” in 1965. Topping the UK Singles Chart, this marked the start of a remarkable career that spanned several decades.

In a career that has lasted 60 years—and still going!—Jones has consistently delivered chart-topping hits. Some of his most beloved songs include “What’s New Pussycat?” “Delilah,” “She’s a Lady,” and “Sex Bomb.” These songs not only showcased his exceptional voice but also established him as a charismatic performer.

27. Kate Bush

Soprano singer Kate Bush is known for her stunning voice and eclectic style. She started writing music at age 11 and signed with EMI at 16. By her late teens, she had composed over 200 songs.

Bush’s debut single “Wuthering Heights” was #1 for four weeks on the UK Singles Chart, becoming the first female artist to reach #1 with a song she both wrote and recorded. She was also one of the first performers to use a head mic to dance and sing simultaneously.

Bush has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

28. Joe Cocker

Well-known for his gritty and bluesy voice, Joe Cocker gets a well-earned spot on our list of great British singers. He is notable for his dynamic stage presence and covers of songs by other artists, though he has written some of his own songs with his writing partner, Chris Stainton.

Cocker found almost instant success with his first album that included his version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles. In 1968, his version topped the UK chart at #1.

In 1983, he won a Grammy Award for his song “Up Where We Belong,” which he sang with Jennifer Warnes. Over his 43-year career, he released 22 albums that found varied success.

29. Marianne Faithfull

During the 1960s, Marianne Faithfull was the most popular female singer of the British Invasion. She originally had a distinctive melodic and higher voice in the 1960s, but her drug abuse and severe laryngitis in the 1970s permanently changed her voice to a lower and raspier sound.

After a hiatus from the music industry, Faithfull returned to the scene with the release of her album Broken English in 1979, one of her most definitive albums. She earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

In 2009, she received the World Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women’s World Awards and was given the title Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

30. Jessie J

Jessica Ellen Cornish, best known simply as Jessie J, started her career at age 11, performing in the West End musical Whistle Down the Wind. As a teen, she joined music theatres and went to BRIT School.

After studying, she released her debut single, “Do It Like a Dude,” with Republic Records in 2011. Her song topped the charts in 19 countries, including the UK. Her debut album, Who You Are, was released the same year and reached #2 in the UK.

Jessie J has a soulful voice and an unconventional musical style that fuses various genres, including contemporary R&B, electropop, and hip-hop. This resonated with many fans and landed the singer a number of awards, including a Billboard Women in Music and a Critics’ Choice Brit Award.

31. Rita Ora

Born in Pristina, SFR, Yugoslavia, Rita Ora‘s family relocated to London when she was just a year old. She attended Sylvia Young Theatre School while growing up in Notting Hill.

When she was older, she occasionally performed at her father’s pub before signing with Roc Nation in 2008. Ora debuted on DJ Fresh’s single “Hot Right Now” as the main singer. Jay Z recognized her potential and helped her release her debut album Ora in 2012.

The album topped UK charts, and the singles “R.I.P.” and “How We Do (Party)” also reached #1. Ora received a nomination for Song of the Year at the Brit Awards for “R.I.P.” She did not win, but she went on to release other charting songs.

32. Ian Gillan

Our penultimate singer, Ian Gillan, is known for his wide vocal range and his powerful voice. He was the lead singer for several local bands in the mid-1960s but found his big break with the band Deep Purple in 1969.

He performed with them until 1973 when he resigned and started his solo band. He then joined Black Sabbath for one year in 1983 as their vocalist.

In 1984, he rejoined Deep Purple and recorded two albums with them until he was let go in 1989. However, in 1992, he rejoined the group to record The Battle Rages On album and has remained the lead singer for the band ever since.

33. Elvis Costello

Last but not least, we have Elvis Costello, who got his start in the pub rock scene in London during the 1970s. He released his first album, My Aim Is True, in 1977 to critical acclaim.

He recorded his second album, This Year’s Model, with his band, the Attractions, and it was released a year later and was even more successful than his first album.

Costello is known for writing songs that draw from several diverse genres, creating his own new wave style. He is often associated with the first wave of British punk in the mid-1970s.

For his work, he won two Grammy Awards—in 1999 and 2020—and was twice nominated for Best British Male Artist at the Brit Awards. In 2003, he was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Singers From Britain

There are many legendary and popular singers from the United Kingdom, with some having careers spanning over five decades.

Their innovative and experimental styles in the 1960s and ’70s created new genres such as Britpop and influenced other generations of musicians. 

With a variety of heavy metal, rock, and pop genres, these artists have impacted the culture of music and created unforgettable legacies that will continue to inspire musical artists for years to come.

However, this list barely scratches the surface of talented vocalists from the British Isles. Who did we miss off? Let us know and we’ll add them in!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.