THE opera singer said to be the inspiration behind the character of Billy Elliot has been recognised for his talent by the Queen.
Sir Thomas Allen, from Seaham, has been awarded this year’s Queen’s Medal for Music for his major influence on the musical life of the nation.
The internationally-acclaimed baritone and director was presented with his medal by the Queen at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Lee Hall, who wrote the play and film of Billy Elliott, is said to have credited Sir Thomas as his inspiration.
As a youngster, Sir Thomas pursued his dream of becoming a performer – just like ballet dancer Billy Elliot.
His talent was first discovered when he was at grammar school in the 1960s, with encouragement from his physics teacher.
He went on to earn a place at the Royal College of Music and made his debut with the Royal Opera House as Donald in Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd in 1971.
He became an established star of great opera houses around the world and in 1989, he was made a CBE and 10 years later he was knighted. When the award was announced in December, Sir Thomas spoke of his pride at having been selected as the ninth winner of the Queen’s Medal for Music.
He said: “I was surprised and thrilled to hear I would receive the Queen’s Medal for Music, having had so much recognition over many years.
“This very special award means so much to me and I’m very proud to have been selected.”
Other well-known recipients of the award, which is approved by the Queen, include Bryn Terfel, Dame Emma Kirkby and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell has also landed the honour.
Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, has described Sir Thomas as “a top opera singer who has become not only a top opera director but also a major force in outreach and musical education”.
He said: “Through the Samling Foundation, he has carried out utterly selfless work for charity and, above all, for young people. It is for this achievement of a lifetime that the Queen’s Medal for Music Committee felt so strongly persuaded to award him the medal.”