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Durham University News

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World-renowned opera star Sir Thomas Allen installed as Chancellor of Durham University

(26 June 2012)

Sir Thomas Allen

World-renowned opera star Sir Thomas Allen has been officially installed as the Chancellor of Durham University.

Sir Thomas, 67, received the Chancellor’s robes and cap and took the oath of office at a ceremony in Durham Cathedral.

He was appointed as the University’s 12th Chancellor in October last year, taking on the role from author Bill Bryson who attended the ceremony to hand over the robes of office to Sir Thomas.

Also being honoured at the ceremony were, Philip Pullman, author of the critically acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials, and the artist David Inshaw who is particularly known for the impressive painting The Badminton Game which now resides in The Tate Gallery.

Both were presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters after being nominated by Sir Thomas to receive honorary degrees as part of his installation celebrations.

Sir Thomas was born in Seaham Harbour, County Durham, and his route to musical stardom began in the 1960s just yards away from Durham Cathedral at the University’s Department of Music.

There he met Professor Arthur Hutchings who, acknowledging his talents, arranged for Sir Thomas to be interviewed at the Royal College of Music.

He has since performed to thousands of people across the world in leading roles such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and at theatres including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Sir Thomas said: “I feel hugely humble to be Chancellor of Durham University and yet I have immense pride. It’s the most extraordinary accolade.

“I’m aware that it’s an honorary role, a celebratory role, a role where you get to wear a nice uniform, but I have a part to play and I want to play it to the best of my ability.

“There’s a vibrancy here that I think is second to none, which really presents a wonderful opportunity for students and the entire University community.

“I look forward to being part of that and in extolling the virtues of this great University wherever and whenever I can.”

Sir Thomas congratulated Philip Pullman and David Inshaw on their honorary degrees.

He said: “I came across Philip’s His Dark Materials several years ago and I was riveted by them. I have also followed David’s painting career for many years and I have always been full of admiration for him.

“They have both made important statements in their respective fields and I am delighted that they have accepted the honours bestowed upon them as recognition of their wonderful achievements.”

Philip Pullman said: “It is an enormous pleasure to receive an honorary degree, especially at the hands of Sir Thomas Allen.

“I have admired his great talent for many years, and I congratulate Durham University on his appointment as Chancellor.”

David Inshaw said: “Any artist will happily concede that creativity is its own exhilarating reward, but none of us would deny that occasional public recognition is gratifying.

“After all those solitary hours in the studio, a brief moment in the spotlight will be both exciting and such an honour, especially an honour from as distinguished an institution as Durham University and Sir Thomas Allen.”

The installation ceremony began a week of Congregation ceremonies which will see thousands of students graduating from Durham University in subjects across the sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, congratulated Sir Thomas on his installation.

He said: “Durham is a world university where students can not only earn an excellent degree, but also benefit from the wider experiences on offer here in areas such as volunteering, sport and the arts, which will stand them in good stead for their future lives and careers.

“As someone who has shown the talent and drive to become successful in his field, Sir Thomas really epitomises the spirit and ambitions of the University and its students, staff and alumni.

“He is a truly inspirational person and an excellent role model who will be an exceptional Chancellor and ambassador for the University over the coming years.”

Sir Thomas follows in the tradition of great artists and performers who have held the role of Chancellor of Durham University, including Bill Bryson, the actor Sir Peter Ustinov and the ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.

The role of Chancellor is ceremonial and has become an increasingly visible ambassadorial role for the University around the world.

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