Operatic ‘Billy Elliot’ is officially recognised for his outstanding musical contribution to the UK.

Durham-born, grammar school-educated, Sir Thomas Allen has been announced as the 2013 recipient of the Queen’s Medal for Music. Awarded since 2005, the medal is given annually to “an outstanding individual or group of musicians who have had a major influence on the musical life of the nation”. Previous winners include soprano Dame Emma Kirkby and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.

“I was surprised and thrilled,” said 69-year-old Sir Thomas who was made a CBE in 1989 and knighted in 1999. “This very special award means so much to me and I’m very proud to have been selected.”

Born in Seaham, County Durham, Allen was first discovered in the 1960s when still at grammar school. Such was his upbringing, he has been frequently cited as the inspiration for the character of Billy Elliot, although Allen’s career was to be opera, not ballet. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music and made his stage debut with the Royal Opera House in a modest role as the sailor Donald in Billy Buddin 1971 (he would go on to be one of the centuries most renowned...