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Billy Elliot writer to receive Honorary award from the University of Sunderland

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Acclaimed playwright Lee Hall will receive an honorary award from the University of Sunderland at a ceremony at London’s historic Southwark Cathedral.

Lee, famous for writing the film and musical Billy Elliot, will be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Arts at the University of Sunderland in London’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, 9 November – recognising his contribution to arts and culture in the north-east.

Originally from Newcastle, Lee has been closely involved in north-east theatre and culture for many decades, especially so with the city’s Live Theatre. Many of his works, including Billy Elliot and the play The Pitmen Painters, draw on the region’s rich cultural heritage and its industrial history.

Lee said he is “thrilled and humbled” to be receiving an honorary doctorate from the University, especially given its close association with Max Roberts, Visiting Professor of Theatre Studies, film producer Lord David Putnam, and with Live Theatre.

“The honorary award is a recognition of what I’ve done in my career, but also a recognition of the work, community, and aspiration of north-east culture. The award is both individual and collective.”

A real advocate for theatre and for north-east culture, Lee celebrates the region as a “fountain of cultural inspiration” and is a strong believer in “art being a central part of civic life”.

Billy Elliot: The Musical, the story of a working-class boy from the industrial north-east who aspires to be a ballet dancer, premiered in 2005 at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre and went onto global acclaim – seen by an audience of over 12 million, across five continents, and earning 80 accolades, including multiple Tony Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award.

Lee’s other works include writing the script for the play Shakespeare in Love, the screenplay for the Elton John biographical film, Rocketman, and The Pitmen Painters – which, alongside Billy Elliot – draws on Lee’s childhood experience of growing up immersed in a strong working-class community dominated by heavy industry.

The location of Lee’s honorary award will be especially fitting, given Southwark Cathedral’s proximity to the original Globe Theatre, where the works of acclaimed playwright William Shakespeare were performed.

The autumn 2023 University of Sunderland in London graduation ceremonies take place at Southwark Cathedral on 8 and 9 November.