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Installation of Chancellor James Nesbitt

3 June 2010

Leading lights from Northern Ireland’s business and arts world will be heading for the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine next week to take part in the formal installation ceremony for the new Chancellor for the University of Ulster – Dr James Nesbitt.

Joining the new Chancellor on June 8th will be four new honorary graduates – actor Conleth Hill, and business leaders Tony Hopkins, Peter Fitzgerald and Bro McFerran.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett, said:

“It is fitting that this ceremony will take place in the Riverside Theatre, since it is here that our new Chancellor spent his formative years as an actor.

“While he has gone on to achieve national and international acclaim, he has never forgotten his roots and remains deeply committed to this theatre and to this region. And it is this characteristic that singled out James as the ideal person to be the University’s Chancellor: acknowledged for his excellence nationally and internationally and deeply committed to his home region.

“There could be no better role model for our students or, indeed, for the University as whole.”

Dr Nesbitt (who received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Ulster in 2003) is the fourth Chancellor of the University of Ulster, and the first to have been born in Northern Ireland.

His three distinguished predecessors were

  • Lord Grey of Naunton (1984-1992)
  • Baroness Dame Julia Neuberger (1993-2001)
  • Sir Richard Nichols (2002-2010)

A biography of the new Chancellor is given below.

At the ceremony, honorary degrees will also be awarded to:

Conleth Hill

Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Conleth Hill is one of Northern Ireland’s most accomplished actors and has had an impressive career, achieving considerable success on the West End and Broadway. After carving out a successful career in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and in Scotland, his breakthrough performance on the West End was in Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets for which he won an Olivier Award.

When the hit comedy transferred to Broadway, he received a Tony Award nomination. Conleth Hill followed that success with another Olivier Award for his performance in Mel Brooks’ The Producers and an acclaimed appearance in Michael Frayn’s Democracy. He secured another Tony nomination for his performance in the National Theatre’s production on Broadway of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer. His film and television work includes appearances in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, his role opposite Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Cillian Murphy in Perrier’s Bounty and and playing Geraldine McQueen’s mum in Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got the Pop Factor and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar On Ice.

Mr Hill is to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) for services to the arts.

Bro McFerran CBE

Bro McFerran is Managing Director of Allstate Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland’s largest IT company, employing over 1700 people.

Educated at St. Malachy’s College and Queen’s University, Belfast where he studied Mechanical Engineering.  Mr McFerran is married to Pat, has three children and one grandchild, and lives in Belfast.

Mr McFerran is to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) for services to economic development.

Tony Hopkins

Tony Hopkins was educated at Campbell College and Queen's University, Belfast, graduating in Economics in 1962.  He trained and worked as a Chartered Accountant in the City of London, returning to Northern Ireland in 1971 to join the Government's industrial development organisation.  He was to spend the next 21 years working to build the Northern Ireland economy by helping local firms to grow and by attracting new inward investment.

Appointed Chairman of Laganside Corporation in 1997, he led its  £1 billion regeneration of Belfast's riverside and the new Cathedral Quarter. He has been a Visiting Professor at Ulster since 1993.

Mr Hopkins is to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of the University (DUniv) for services to higher education and economic development.

Dr Peter FitzGerald

Dr. Peter FitzGerald is the founder and Managing Director of Randox Laboratories, a privately owned company based in Crumlin, County Antrim.  Dr. FitzGerald studied Biochemistry at Strathclyde University in Glasgow and upon graduating, was awarded a scholarship to undertake research at the National Institute for Medical Research in London.

In 1982, Dr. FitzGerald formed Randox, a biotechnology company, to manufacture clinical and veterinary diagnostic products. Randox exports 94% of its products to 30,000 customers worldwide and has revenue in excess of £65 million per year.  Randox is the United Kingdom’s largest indigenous biotechnology company and currently employs 850 people worldwide.

Dr FitzGerald is to receive the honorary degree of DSc for services to economic development

Media representatives are invited to attend. Please confirm attendance and any interview bids to Mrs Janet Clarke, Press Office, University of Ulster 028 90 366178.


James Nesbitt, Chancellor of the University of Ulster

Dr James Nesbitt is one of the UK’s most acclaimed screen actors. Born in Ballymena in January 1965, he was raised in the nearby village of Broughshane in County Antrim and attended Lisnamurrican Primary School where his father Jim was the headmaster. He has three sisters Margaret, Kathryn and Andrea. When his mother May, a civil servant, landed a job in the Housing Executive the family moved to Coleraine. After attending Blagh Primary School, Dr Nesbitt secured a place in Coleraine Academical Institution.

While he harboured ambitions as a boy to one day play for Manchester United, Dr Nesbitt also developed an interest in acting. At the age of 13 his parents took him to auditions for the Riverside Theatre’s production of Oliver! and he landed the role of the Artful Dodger. He continued to perform in Riverside productions until he was 16 – and secured his Equity Card in a production of Pinocchio, when the professional actor playing Jiminy Cricket broke his ankle.

At the age of 18, Dr Nesbitt secured a place at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown where he began to read French, but his desire to become an actor led to him quitting the University after a year of study. He enrolled instead in the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

A day after graduating, Dr Nesbitt landed a part in Virtuoso – a BBC2 film on the life of the composer John Ogdon. He carved out a role in theatre with roles in Up On The Roof, Hamlet and As You Like It. In 1991, he secured a supporting role in his first movie – Peter Chelsom’s comedy Hear My Song alongside Adrian Dunbar and Ned Beatty about the tenor Joseph Locke. A series of TV and movie appearances followed, including roles in Michael Winterbottom’s movies Love Lies Bleeding, Jude and Welcome to Sarajevo. In 1994, Dr Nesbitt married Sonia Forbes-Adam who he met five years earlier while performing in Hamlet. The couple have two children – Peggy and Mary.

Undoubtedly Dr Nesbitt’s big breakthrough was as a romantic lead in the hit ITV comedy drama series Cold Feet opposite Helen Baxendale, John Thomson and Fay Ripley which ran from 1998 to 2003. The series was garlanded with awards including the Golden Rose at the Montreux Television Festival and a Best TV Comedy Actor award for Dr Nesbitt at the British Comedy Awards.

He further raised his international profile by appearing in the hit comedy movie Waking Ned alongside David Kelly and Ian Bannen. In 2002, Dr Nesbitt shifted gear with a widely praised lead performance as Ivan Cooper in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday. Dr Nesbitt was nominated for a BAFTA and secured a Best Actor award at the Stockholm International Film Festival.

The role paved the way for other edgier roles in the ITV docudrama Wall of Silence, the BBC series Jekyll and as the undercover police officer Tommy Murphy in the Colin Bateman-penned BBC series Murphy’s Law. Dr Nesbitt has continued to take on a wide and varied range of comic and dramatic roles – appearing in comedies like Danny Boyle’s Millions and Woody Allen’s Match Point and in darker material like the Iraq-themed drama Occupation and the post-Troubles drama Five Minutes of Heaven with Liam Neeson.

Recently he has wrapped up roles in Ralph Fiennes’ movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox and in Emilio Estevez’s drama The Way, alongside Martin Sheen.

Dr Nesbitt has lent his name to a number of deserving causes including being a patron of Action Cancer, a patron of the Troubles victims’ organisation, Wave and an ambassador for UNICEF.