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About Durham University

Chancellor

Sir Thomas Allen

Sir Thomas was born in Seaham Harbour, in County Durham. His route to musical stardom began in the 1960s when, as a pupil at Robert Richardson Grammar School in Ryhope, his talent was recognised and encouraged by physics teacher Dennis Weatherley.

The school’s headmaster arranged for the then 18-year-old Sir Thomas to visit Professor Arthur Hutchings in Durham University’s Music Department who arranged an interview for him at the Royal College of Music.

Sir Thomas’s career began with the Welsh National Opera and on his debut he was described as “surely the best British lyric baritone singing in opera since the war”.

He has won worldwide acclaim for the many roles he has made his own including Billy Budd, Pelléas, Eugene Onegin, Ulisse and Beckmesser and for his interpretations of the great Mozart roles, Count Almaviva, Don Alfonso, Papageno, Guglielmo and his signature role, Don Giovanni.

Sir Thomas has sung no less than 50 roles at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and in recent years, he has added directing to his credits, making an acclaimed US debut with The Marriage of Figaro.

According to the playwright Lee Hall, Sir Thomas’s remarkable story was the inspiration for his hit film Billy Elliott, about a boy who came from the mining communities of County Durham to dance Swan Lake.

On being announced as Chancellor in October 2011, Sir Thomas said: “As a County Durham boy I am extremely proud and honoured to be appointed as Chancellor of Durham University.

“No matter where my life and career have taken me, Durham has always held a special place in my heart so it is a particular privilege for me to accept this prestigious role.

“Now, after the first three or four years of Chancellorship, nothing could have prepared me for the day to day fulfilment I feel with my involvement in this wonderful University, whether it be allied to my own field of work, or with “something completely different".

Among his many honours, Sir Thomas received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Durham University in 1988. He is an honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and holds a Fellowship of the Royal College of Music.

He has maintained strong Durham connections and is Vice-President of the Durham University Choral Society (DUCS) and an Honorary Patron of the Durham Cathedral Choir Association. In 2007 Sir Thomas performed a recital at Durham’s Gala Theatre as part of an event to mark the University’s 175th Anniversary.

He also spearheads the charitable Samling Foundation, which inspires young people to excel in the world of music and has worked with children from the North East and across the UK.


The Chancellor is the Head of the University and is a member of the Council and of Convocation. The duties of the Chancellor include:

  • Ceremonial – at graduations, receptions etc.
  • Pastoral – an affection for and an interest in students and staff.
  • Scholarly – a commitment to the world of learning, teaching and ‘culture’.
  • Ambassadorial – carrying a Durham banner at home and abroad.

Contact details:

All enquiries should be sent to:

Andrea Cairns
Events and Customer Services Manager
Event Durham
Durham University
Freepost DU370
Durham
DH1 3BR

Tel: 0191 33442882

Email: andrea.cairns@durham.ac.uk

Invitations and diary requests should be submitted via email to andrea.cairns@durham.ac.uk using the Chancellor Request Form.