Tyne & Wear

'Billy Elliot' inspiration Sir Thomas Allen receives royal honour

Sir Thomas Allen receiving the honour Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Thomas said he was very proud to receive the "special award"

The County Durham-born opera star credited as the inspiration for the character of Billy Elliot has been honoured by the Queen.

Sir Thomas Allen was awarded the Queen's Medal for Music during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

The internationally acclaimed baritone was recognised for his influence on the "musical life of the nation".

Born in Seaham, the 69-year-old was first discovered when he was at grammar school in the 1960s.

After graduating from the Royal College of Music, he made his debut with the Royal Opera House in 1971.

In 1989, he was made a CBE, 10 years later he was knighted, and in 2012, he became chancellor of Durham University.

'Utterly selfless'

Lee Hall, the creator of Billy Elliot - the story of a boy in a mining village who pursues his talents as a dancer, despite the expectations and prejudices of his surroundings - cited Sir Thomas as the inspiration.

Master of The Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, 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.

"And 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."

Sir Thomas said: "This very special award means so much to me and I'm very proud to have been selected."

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