Local music stars Tom Grennan and The Shires awarded Honorary Doctor of Arts

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Tom Grennan
Tom Grennan with his honorary Doctorate

Local singer Tom Grennan, alongside Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes of The Shires,  joined students from the University of Bedfordshire at their graduation ceremony to receive honorary awards.

Hundreds of students from the University of Bedfordshire’s Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies & Science (CATS) gathered to celebrate their graduation on Thursday 25 July.

In front of family and friends, the students took to the stage at the University’s Putteridge Bury campus near Luton to collect their awards.

Tom was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts in recognition of his outstanding services to the arts.

The ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’ singer, whose version of ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land features in the latest O2 advert, was born and raised in Bedford and attended St Thomas More School.

He had his big break when he was featured in the 2016 Chase & Status single ‘All Goes Wrong’.

He has since released his debut album, ‘Lighting Matches’, which is now certified as a silver record by the Brits council.

The Shires are a country band consisting of Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes. They received Honorary Doctors of Arts in recognition of their services to the arts.

The musical duo formed in 2013 and released their debut album ‘Brave’ in 2015, becoming the first UK country act to chart in the Top 10 of the UK Albums Chart. Their latest album ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ is the bestselling country album in the UK of the last year.

The Shires receive their doctorates

They addressed the graduates, saying: “We cannot believe we are here, we’re very honoured to receive this award today. We want to say congratulations to every single one of you sat here today.”

Ben offered words of inspiration to the recent graduates: “Plans change, some of you might have definite plans, some might not have a clue at all and that’s fine. It’s not about having it all worked out, it’s about working it out as you go along. We’re still working it out every single day.”

Over on his Facebook page, Tom Grennan shared a transcript of his acceptance speech:

Today was a truly humbling day for me, I was given an honorary doctorate degree by the university of Bedfordshire for outstanding services to the arts. I gave a speech after picking up my award to the other alumni and guests so I thought i would share it with you x

“Firstly i just want to say I’m completely overwhelmed by this honour, if I’m honest I am truly blown away by it.

Secondly i would like to thank the University for bestowing such an incredible award on me.

It means a great deal to me, both professionally and personally and also to my family, and others who have helped me so far on this journey that we call life, they know who they are!

In truth I feel like a bit of a fraud stood here in front of all of you who have worked so hard for many years towards gaining this degree. It’s fair to say that I have gone about things a little differently haven’t I.

As some of you may or may not know I was born and raised in Bedford and my childhood was a fairly typical one.

I played football, went to school, got a moped at 16 and “was cruising with that for a bit” all whilst being supported by an amazing family and a network of friends I’m truly blessed to have.

School was a real struggle for me and my frustrations with the life sentence of dyslexia/discalculase and dyspraxia not only tested me, but also tested every teacher in the school.

These testing times are where I learnt how to smile and use this silver tongue of mine to get through the choppiest of waters.

Tom Grennan
Tom Grennan receives his honorary doctorate

Aside from an MP3 player my mate’s brother loaded up with grime, and a teacher called Mrs Coops who was a real shining light, I do often wonder what path I would have gone down.

In truth music was never a big part of my life growing up.

Then one day I went to a party, definitely over indulged a little on all sorts and then got the Dutch-courage to get up and belt out a Kooks song at a karaoke party.

The next day I was nursing a banging hangover but my phone was popping off with everyone getting in touch telling me how amazing I was. I wasn’t sure myself but the praise was relentless and it was at that point when I thought I may have a voice!? This was a pivotal [sic] in my life.

Not long after this first pivotal moment in my life, the second pivotal moment occurred, but sadly it was something altogether more traumatic.

I was minding my own business eating some KFC in Bedford when a group of strangers attacked me on the street for no reason.

It’s a strange situation and something I still struggle to talk about, but in a way I look back now and am thankful for this “wrong place wrong time” incident.

It left its mark, and not just from the metal plates and screws i have in my jaw for the rest of my life. I was in a mad dark place. It hurt me mentally.

But strangely it was a major catalyst in my life. I had this huge build-up of emotions, I struggled so much I didn’t really leave the house for six months and spiralled into a depression.

There I was, shellshocked to the core, but then a light went off and without any real intention of ever showing anyone, i started writing about it.

Influenced by the likes of Ray Charles, Kendrick Lamar and Amy Winehouse, i poured all my trauma, pent-up pain and frustration, into songs, and then I just found I could escape from the dark and into the light, i just loved doing it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Now, anytime I feel anything, I write about it. Music is a beautiful gift for everyone, it’s incredibly cathartic on every level, for everyone.

This leads me to my final message.

Huge congratulations to all of you who sit here today, do not under estimate how far you have come, but also be aware that this is the start of a beautiful journey for you if you truly want it!

Also remember that everyone connected to you is so proud of each and everyone of you! But I ask you to do one thing whilst you graduate today, remember those who have have supported you – your family and friends, teachers, lovers, and even people who you have never met but from whom you have learned.

Musicians, poets, family, friends, scientists, writers, everyone who has inspired you and contributed to the world’s body of knowledge and arts.

Take the gifts that they have given you and do some good in the world. There’s no better way to honor them!

Be lucky x