New Chancellor celebrates his first graduation week
Sir Thomas Allen has been installed as the new Chancellor of Durham University.
The ceremony in Durham Cathedral took place at the beginning of graduation week and saw Sir Thomas awarding an honorary Doctorate of Letters to author Philip Pullman and artist David Inshaw.
Speaking about his installation, Sir Thomas said: “I can’t deny I’m very happy”.
The new Chancellor has previous connections to the University, having once sung for Arthur Hutchings, a former Professor of Music at Durham, when he was 17 years old. Professor Hutchings subsequently arranged an audition at a music college in London, which began Sir Thomas’ operatic career.
A world-renowned opera singer, Sir Thomas expressed his intention to involve himself in artistic extracurricular endeavours with Durham students. He said: “I’m a natural joiner-in and an enthusiast for all projects big and small.
“I don’t want to tread on toes either, it’s not going to be a playground for me in that sense, but if I could be a fly on the wall and just nudge with a bit of advice, they might have advice for me too. It’s very much a shared experience. Who knows, I might find myself singing a small role in an opera here one of these days”.
The new Chancellor chose the two honorary degree recipients himself, further supporting his commitment to the arts. Sir Thomas selected Pullman and Inshaw because of his belief that “They have both made important statements in their respective fields”. He also said: “I am delighted that they have accepted the honours bestowed upon them today as recognition of their wonderful achievements”.
David Inshaw expressed his gratitude for his honorary degree, saying, “Any artist will happily concede that creativity is its own exhilarating reward, but none of us would deny that occasional public recognition is gratifying”.
Sir Thomas was in high spirits all day. When asked how he feels about being the inspiration for the film Billy Elliot, he said: “I would like the royalties, but then I didn’t even know that I had been an influence’. He later joked: “I certainly don’t expect to play the part. It’s a little late for that”.
The University’s Vice-Chancellor Christopher Higgins was also involved in the installation ceremony, as was outgoing Chancellor Bill Bryson, who handed the robes of office to Sir Thomas. Professor Higgins remarked on the prestigious list of artistic chancellors the University has had, such as Sir Peter Ustinov and Dame Margot Fonteyn.
He said: “The arts are very important to this university and our students. [Sir Thomas] reflects our love of education, an all-rounded education, and of course, a love for Durham. Who could be a better ambassador for Durham University, Durham City and Durham County than Sir Thomas?”
Throughout graduation week Sir Thomas Allen shook the hands of new graduates at each graduation ceremony. Students who have met the new Chancellor already have commended him for his friendliness and sense of humour. A graduate in one ceremony last week spoke of him as “very engaging and enthusiastic”.
Sir Thomas Allen is Durham University’s 12th Chancellor, following author Bill Bryson who had held the position since 2005.