Sir Thomas Allen, an internationally renowned opera singer from County Durham, has been named as the new Chancellor of Durham University.
Allen is replacing the much-loved Bill Bryson, who stepped down after five years of service to spend more time on his family and writing commitments. The announcement was made at this evening’s Convocation in London.
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.
“I am thrilled to be ‘coming home’ and I greatly look forward to meeting the students, staff and alumni at Durham and representing this magnificent University across the world.”
Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins said: “Sir Thomas follows in the tradition of great artists and performers who have held this prestigious role, including Dame Margot Fonteyn, Sir Peter Ustinov and Bill Bryson.
“He perfectly illustrates that with talent, drive and ambition you can achieve your goals and I am sure he will prove an inspiration to all Durham students and a marvellous ambassador for the University.”
Allen is regarded as one of the finest operatic baritones performing today for his voice, his wide ranging repertoire, and his prowess as an actor. He has also performed at the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ in 2004 and in 2009, and was knighted in the 1999 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Sir Thomas was born in Seaham Harbour, in County Durham. His route to fame 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.
Allen is following in the footsteps of an illustrious list of previous Durham University Chancellors.
Previous Chancellors have included Sir Peter Ustinov, the two-time Oscar-winning actor, Dukes of Northumberland, Earls of Durham, and Malcolm MacDonald, a former cabinet politician and a distinguished diplomat.
Sir Thomas’s appointment was welcomed by outgoing Chancellor Bill Bryson.
He said: “Excellent news about Sir Thomas Allen. I am delighted. I’m sure he will fill the role brilliantly.”
Bryson certainly endeared himself to the university community, and spend a great deal of time performing charity work and meeting students.
Speaking at the time of the announcement that Bryson was to step down, Professor Higgins said: “Bill has done far more than simply fulfilling his ceremonial duties at Congregation, giving his time, passion and inimitable talent to raise the University’s national and international profile in so many ways.
“Bill has been a wonderful ambassador for Durham, engaging with decision-makers, businesses, the media, University partners, and of course with our staff, students and alumni in departments, colleges and at a whole host of events in Durham and around the world.”
Bryson said that he “will treasure forever the time that I have spent at Durham University and in this beautiful city.”
He added: “It has been just the greatest privilege and honour I have had in my life to serve as Chancellor for such a remarkable community of students, staff and life-long University friends. I will miss Durham more than I can say and hope to find time to continue to visit after my time as Chancellor has come to an end.”
Sir Thomas’s appointment as Chancellor follows initial consultation with Durham’s students, staff and alumni, and a thorough selection process.