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Dame Kiri
Dame Kiri
Dame Kiri receiving her degree
Dame Kiri receiving her degree
Photo by Nic Delves-Broughton

Internal News - 21 July 2005

Dame Kiri "blessed" to receive honorary degree

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa today said she was “blessed and grateful” to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath.

The acclaimed opera star spoke about her life to an audience of 600 University officials, academics, students and their families at a graduation ceremony in Bath Abbey as she was given an honorary Doctorate in Music.

“I spoke to my daughter and told her that that the University of Bath was bestowing this incredible honour upon me," she said.

“My daughter said ‘but you haven’t studied for it’ – but I’ve studied at the university of the world.”

The soprano, who sang at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, said that it was the fact that she was an adopted baby “who nobody wanted” which had given her the drive to success.

Dame Kiri was born in 1944 in Gisborne, New Zealand. She told the congregation today how she had been taken round local homes as a baby, 61 years ago, and presented to parents to see if they wanted her. Her parents Thomas and Eleanor, took her in and her father taught her how to hunt, fish and shoot. At 14 she began training to sing, and came to London and “this beautiful country” where she found international stardom.

“I am blessed and very grateful to my wonderful parents and for my amazing life. I thank the University of Bath for giving me another wonderful moment.”

Earlier Professor Peter Redfern had described her in his oration as “one of the greatest singers of her generation”. He also spoke of the “hard, grinding unglamorous” work needed to develop her voice fully and her ability to communicate her enjoyment of singing.

The graduations of around 1900 students took place at the Abbey during nine ceremonies over three days, ending today. The ceremonies were preceded by a public procession of some of the University of Bath's senior officers and academics, presided over by its Chancellor, Lord Tugendhat.

The other honorary graduates were:

• Sir Martin Evans, who pioneered research into stem cells, an area of research with crucial importance for health, in which human cells are created in an attempt to cure diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease. In 1981 he found that stem cells derived from mouse embryos could be reintroduced into embryos and would contribute to their development. This discovery opened up the important area of stem cells to researchers across the world. Sir Martin, Director of the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, later showed that the disease cystic fibrosis might be cured using an approach based on stem cells. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.

• Professor Ron Johnston. Professor Johnston was born and brought up in Swindon and is one of the country’s leading geographers. His book Nature, State and Economy (1989) explored the difficulties that societies have in trying to tackle environmental problems. He was ahead of his time in tackling these themes and his work is relevant today. Professor Johnston has also edited major journals in geography and his academic posts include his service as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters.

• Judith Howard. Professor Howard is one of the most distinguished academics working in X-ray crystallography, the science of determining the precise three-dimensional atomic structure of molecules by firing X-rays at them and examining the pattern that results. In 1991 Professor Howard took up a post as professor at the University of Durham, which she has turned into one of the world’s leading centres for X-ray crystallography. Her innovative work on low temperature crystallography, looking at how molecules behave at temperatures of around minus 270 Centigrade, has been at the forefront of the field. She received a CBE in 1996 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2002, the UK’s highest science award. She has also had a close relationship with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath. She was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.

• Iain Gilmour Gray. Iain Gray is Managing Director of Airbus UK, which designed and manufactured the wings of the new Airbus A380 double-decker super-jumbo which will redefine long-haul air travel in the next several decades. He began working for British Aerospace in 1979, rising through the ranks in its structures, loads and stress engineering sections before being promoted to Engineering Director in 2000. When Airbus UK was formed as a stand-alone company in 2001 he became its Senior Vice President Engineering before taking up his present role in 2004. He is a Chartered Engineer, and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and President of their Bristol branch. One of his hobbies is ‘collecting aeronautical ephemera’. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Engineering.

• Professor Dame Julia Higgins. After a brief period as a school teacher, Dame Julia moved into research in chemical engineering, being appointed a professor at Imperial College in 1989. She has also been President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and is Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). She has also chaired the Committee for Academic Progress of Women and is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s highest science honour. She was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.

• Bruno Buchberger. Professor Buchberger formulated what is now called Buchberger’s algorithm which dealt with the mathematical theory of polynomial ideals. These have a practical value in engineering, robotics, physics, chemistry, economics and biology. Professor Buchberger, who was educated in Innsbruck, Austria, is also the founder of the Research Institute for Symbolic Computation at the Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.

• U A Fanthorpe. Ursula Fanthorpe left her post as Head of English at Cheltenham Ladies’ College to train as a counsellor, and worked as a secretary, receptionist and hospital clerk in Bristol. She drew upon her experiences for her first published volume of poetry Side Effects (1978). Her poetry has dealt with many themes including love and its absence, and the effects of war, as well as historical themes and personal reminiscences, often with humour. In 2001 she was awarded the CBE for services to poetry and in 2003 the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. She was also the first woman to be nominated for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry. Throughout all of this her home has been in Gloucestershire, near Bath. She was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters, though was unable to attend through illness.