WORLD-FAMOUS opera star Sir Thomas Allen has been appointed chancellor of Durham University.
The 67-year-old, born in Seaham Harbour, will become the 12th chancellor when he takes over from author Bill Bryson in January.
His appointment was officially approved yesterday, at an official assembly of university members in London.
He 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.”
Sir Thomas’s route to musical stardom 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 to visit Professor Arthur Hutchings, from Durham University’s music department, who arranged an interview for him at the Royal College of Music.
His singing career began with the Welsh National Opera, where his debut was described as the “best British lyric baritone singing in opera since the war”.
He has performed at theatres including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
According to the playwright Lee Hall, Sir Thomas’s remarkable story was the inspiration for his hit film Billy Elliott, about a boy who came from an East Durham mining communities to dance Swan Lake.
Durham University recently maintained its position in the top five in the Complete University Guide 2012 for the UK.
The chancellor is the ceremonial head of the university and performs duties including awarding of degrees at graduation, and an ambassadorial role promoting it at home and abroad.
Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the university, said: “Sir Thomas Allen really is a local boy made good.
“His achievements as an artist, in education, and as a dedicated supporter of so many good causes, make him the perfect choice to be the new chancellor of Durham University.”
Sir Thomas’s appointment was also 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.”