Skip to main content

Sir Thomas Allen at Congregation

Opera star Sir Thomas Allen will take his final bow as Chancellor here at Durham University during Summer Congregation. His retirement was announced last year and he will say farewell to the University and our students as he hosts an extended programme of graduation ceremonies to be held in 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 our history, 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.

Sir Tom 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, 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.

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.”

Celebrating graduation

This year our annual Summer Congregation has been extended to take place over two weeks and will include 34 graduation ceremonies in Durham Cathedral from 27 June. We will be celebrating the achievements of this year’s cohort of graduates and welcoming back students whose graduation was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic to enjoy the event.

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.”

Honorary graduates

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.

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

Sir Thomas Allen’s legacy

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

The 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.

Our new Chancellor will be announced in due course.

Find out more: