Annie Lennox OBE – singer, songwriter, humanitarian and activist – received an Honorary Doctorate of the University of London at the Academy’s Graduation Ceremony today.

Annie Lennox studied flute, piano and harpsichord at the Academy from 1971, during which time she also sang in various bands. Shortly after the end of her studies here, she met Dave Stewart and, with other musicians, formed the band The Tourists, a group that was to enjoy great success. In 1979 the duo Eurythmics was formed. They released their first album In the Garden in 1981 and became a worldwide sensation in 1983 with their second album Sweet Dreams Are Made of This. In its eleven years Eurythmics went on to sell over 80 million albums and achieve 20 international hits.

In 1992 Annie released her debut solo album, Diva, which entered the UK album charts at no.1, went double platinum in the US, won Album of the Year at the 1993 Brits and was nominated for a Grammy. This was followed by Medusa in 1995 and Bare in 2003, which included songs such as Why?Walking on Broken GlassLittle Bird, and No More I Love Yous. She won no fewer than eight BRIT Awards and four Grammys, and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘One of the 100 Greatest Singers of all Time’.

In 2003 Annie was invited to Cape Town to take part in the inaugural concert of Nelson Mandela’s 46664 HIV campaign. In South Africa she witnessed the plight of people affected by the AIDS pandemic, in clinics, orphanages, hospitals and townships and founded the SING Campaign to raise funds and heighten worldwide awareness. 

She has worked with UNAIDS, Oxfam, Comic Relief, Amnesty International and The British Red Cross. In 2009 she was presented with the Woman of Peace Award at the Tenth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Berlin. In 2011, she received an OBE for her ‘tireless charity campaigns and championing of humanitarian causes’ and in 2016 she was given the prestigious Livingstone Award and named Harper’s Bazaar Woman of the Year for Philanthropy.

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy, said: ‘Not only does Annie Lennox have one of the most distinctive and powerful voices of her generation and an exceptional song catalogue, but she has also used that voice and her global recognition beyond the boundaries of the stage to create positive change in the world. We are proud of her as an alumna and delighted that through granting her this Honorary Doctorate we can hold her up to our students as a role model for maintaining the highest musical standards while also recognising one’s social responsibilities.’

In her response, Annie Lennox said: ‘Over the 46 years since I first came to London I’ve had a plethora of incredible experiences which came about through music making and performance. I am deeply touched, honoured and amazed to receive such an extraordinary recognition from The Royal Academy. It feels like coming full circle, back to where it all started.’ The full speech is published here

At the graduation ceremony, 240 students from over 40 countries graduated with 9 types of award. The ceremony took place soon after the Academy was granted Gold status in the new Teaching Excellence Framework, and in a year when it was rated top UK conservatoire both in The Guardian Good University Guide 2018 and the Good University Guide Arts, Drama and Music League Table 2018. 

As a constituent college of the University of London, the Academy has the right to propose illustrious musicians to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Music ‘honoris causa’. Previous recipients include the late Sir Colin Davis, Sir Elton John, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Stephen Sondheim, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Mark Elder, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Sir Thomas Allen and Sir Ralph Kohn, Quincy Jones, John Adams, György Pauk and Trevor Pinnock.

Other awards at the ceremony at St Marylebone Parish Church included:

Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM)

  • John Bradbury, clarinet
  • Allan Clayton, tenor
  • Rumon Gamba, conductor
  • Thomas Gould, violin
  • Ashley Solomon, Historical Performance
  • Rachel Tucker, Musical Theatre


Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music (Hon FRAM)

  • Nicola Mutton, administration
  • Guri Sandhu, Consultant Laryngologist
  • Professor Sir Richard Trainor, Governor


Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music (Hon RAM)

  • Alison Balsom, trumpet
  • Ralph Kirshbaum, cello
  • Mark van de Wiel, clarinet


Photograph: Frances Marshall

Annie’s Speech :

“To say that I’m honoured and amazed by this exceptional recognition is a genuine understatement.

Thank you so much. I am truly grateful. I’d like to briefly share some memories and reflections with you.

Many of my life experiences can be described as unconventional, idiosyncratic and synchronistic – as this event proves to be no exception.

By rights, I feel I’m not entitled to be here – but as John Lennon once famously said…”Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”

Forty–six years ago in 1971, as a fairly naïve and unworldly 17 year old, my plans brought me to an audition at the Royal Academy to hopefully have a chance to study flute.

A few weeks later, much to my surprise, a letter arrived to inform me that I’d actually been offered a place on the performer’s course.

That letter became the passport to transport me from my provincial home town, in the North East of Scotland, to the overwhelming urban sprawl of London.

Dragging a suitcase and holding a scrap of paper, with directions to guide me from King’s Cross Station to Camberwell, I eventually arrived at the Ethel Kennedy Jacobs Hall of Residence, where I was to reside for a few terms, until I was able to ‘up my game’ by moving into a shared room in a ground floor flat in West Hampstead.

After a while I decided to become a lodger in the attic bedroom of a house in East Finchley – and after that, I managed to find a basement room in Powis Gardens in Notting Hill – when the area was far more wild than gentrified. Following that chapter – I rented a room in a shabby flat overlooking Shepherd’s Bush roundabout – followed by another shared room in Fulham. Then I moved into a room in a suburban house in Putney, followed by a tiny single bedsit in a house in Camden Town, which subsequently led me to a squat above a record store in Crouch End…

Over the course of those peripatetic ‘Withnail and I’ type years, my existence passed through a series of cheap rooms, bed sits and flats ranging across several London’s boroughs, while I supported myself with a variety of part time jobs.. waitressing in restaurants, serving drinks behind bars, selling books in Shaftesbury Avenue and baby clothes in Holloway Road – giving flute lessons, baby sitting, buying and selling second hand clothes – and I did once work in a fish factory.

Over the period of time while I was a student, I came to realise that I would never be a good enough flautist to play in an orchestra or chamber ensemble.

My dreams had failed and I needed to pursue a different path. The thought was both liberating and terrifying, as I had to face the fact that I had absolutely no idea what my future would hold.

I faded away from the Academy…

In musical terms, you could call it a gradual diminuendo.

Ladies and gentlemen, honoured graduates…

The truth is.. I stand before you as an acronym, a ‘drop out’ holding an honorary doctorate.

And the reason I’m sharing this with you, is to illustrate just how unpredictable the future can be, with it’s plethora of circumstances, opportunities and choices.

You truly are the director and co creator of your own destiny as it plays out before you.

As today’s graduates of 2017, each one of you has reached or surpassed the level of talent, excellence and artistry that’s required of all professional musicians.

I am genuinely in awe of your accomplishments. And I really do know what it takes –

The disciplined effort and hard work..The countless hours and years of dedicated practice….The honing of your outstanding musical gifts and skills.

Some of you may already have a clear path ahead and some of you might be wondering which direction to take next.

But no matter what – always be mindful that a deep love for music and music making lies at the core of your being.

It is the reason that brought you to this particular moment, and it will always be available to you through every stage of your life, to inspire, to soothe, to heal, to celebrate, to connect and humanise us.

Music has the power to do these things.

All you have to do is bring it forth.

I wish each and every one of you all the success and joy the world has to offer.

Thank you.”

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