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Billy Elliot writer awarded Sunderland Uni honorary doctorate

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 the 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 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,” he added.

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 on to global acclaim – seen by an audience of over 12m 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 biopic, 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 autumn 2023 University of Sunderland in London graduation ceremonies take place at Southwark Cathedral on 8 and 9 November.

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