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Opera star Sir Thomas Allen bows out as Durham University Chancellor with final Congregation

Opera star Sir Thomas Allen is bowing out of his role as Chancellor of Durham University with a final Congregation at Durham Cathedral.

Sir Thomas, whose life story is said to have inspired the hit film and musical Billy Elliot, has been one of the longest serving Chancellors in the history of Durham University, serving for more than ten years.

Born in Seaham Harbour, County Durham, and educated at Robert Richardson Grammar School in Ryhope, Sir Thomas’ career began with the Welsh National Opera, and from there he went on to sing more than 50 roles at the Royal Opera House including performing for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at the Palace Grounds.

He has won worldwide acclaim for his many singing roles and received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Durham University in 1988. He has been awarded the prestigious Queens Medal for Music in 2013 and the Bavarian Government, with the State Opera of Bavaria awarded him the title of Kammersanger.

He is an honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and holds a Fellowship of the Royal College of Music.

This year marks the 51st season since his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and 41st anniversary of his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

His retirement from Durham University was announced last year and he will say farewell to the University and its students in a final graduation, or Congregation, later this month.

Speaking about his time as Chancellor, Sir Thomas said: “From day one, ten years ago, I’ve been trying to summon the words to best describe this experience. I’m still trying, though I can say briefly that a great part of being Chancellor has been a kind of further education process in the people I’ve met and the things I’ve experienced. It has been the greatest honour and privilege, and I shall miss the people and the role terribly.”

Durham University will hold 34 graduation ceremonies in Durham Cathedral over two weeks from June 27 to July 7, including for students whose graduation was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, said: “We are greatly looking forward to welcoming our students and their loved ones for this very special Congregation fortnight. They have worked hard and we wish them every success in the future. We know as Durham University graduates they will be highly sought after by employers worldwide, and we hope that they will maintain close links with us here at Durham.

“It also offers us an opportunity to thank Sir Thomas for his outstanding service to the University as Chancellor for the past ten years. He has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to our staff, students and alumni.”

To thank Sir Thomas for his service, the University has dedicated a new state-of-the-art Steinway Spirio piano in his honour. A farewell dinner is also planned at Durham Castle.

A Sir Thomas Allen Appeal Fund has been established to support the University’s initiative to become an ‘All-Steinway School’, offer music and choral bursaries and provide scholarships to students of all backgrounds and disciplines from around the world.

The University will announce its new Chancellor in due course.

Eight honorary degrees will also be awarded during the Congregation ceremonies. The recipients are: Professor Edith Hall, Ms Maggie Bosanquet, Mr Henry Timms, Professor Simon Croft, Ms Lorna Goodison CD, Lady Black of Derwent, Dame Sara Thornton and The Rt. Hon. Sir Mark Waller.

The ceremonies will be streamed live to allow people to join in the celebrations from all around the world.


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