The new Chancellor of the University of Ulster is to be the acclaimed actor James Nesbitt.
The 45-year-old father of two will succeed former London Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Nichols who is standing down after eight years in the post.
The chair of the University’s ruling Council, Gerry Mallon confirmed the University had offered the star of ‘Cold Feet’, ‘Murphy’s Law’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’ the position and he had accepted.
“We’re delighted James, a former student at the University and an honorary graduate, has agreed to take on this very important role,” Mr Mallon said.
“James is taking over as Chancellor at an exciting time for Ulster and will bring considerable energy, dynamism and commitment to this post. This is also the first time there has been a Northern Ireland-born Chancellor of the University.
“He succeeds an eminent and respected Chancellor in the form of Sir Richard Nichols who has served the University with great distinction since his installation in May 2002. We very much appreciate the time and the commitment Sir Richard devoted to the University, its staff and students and we wish him and his family well for the future.”
In 2003, Broughshane-born James Nesbitt received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D Litt) from the University for Services to Drama. He had previously studied French at Ulster but left to pursue a career in acting by studying drama at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
After a breakthrough role in Peter Chelsom’s movie ‘Hear My Song’ about the tenor Joseph Locke, he was propelled to stardom when he landed the lead role in ITV’s comedy drama ‘Cold Feet’ alongside Helen Baxendale, John Thomson and Fay Ripley.
Over the years, he has built up an impressive body of work on stage, television and movies, mixing comedy with more hard hitting material. This has included lead roles in the Colin Bateman penned BBC series ‘Murphy’s Law’, ‘Jekyll’, ‘The Passion’ and the Iraq War drama ‘Occupation’. On the big screen, he has appeared in Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Jude’ and ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’, the hit comedy ‘Waking Ned Devine’, Paul Greengrass’s ‘Bloody Sunday’, Woody Allen’s ‘Match Point’ and last year opposite Liam Neeson in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s post-Troubles drama ‘Five Minutes of Heaven’.
The actor, who is a passionate fan of both Manchester United and Coleraine FC, is currently in Belgrade shooting a movie of Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’ directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes and also featuring Brian Cox, Gerard Butler and Vanessa Redgrave.
Taking a break from filming, he said: “I am deeply honoured to have been asked by the University of Ulster to be its Chancellor.
“It is a good time to be joining the University as it embarks on two major development plans in Greater Belfast and the North West which could make a significant difference to the academic, cultural, sporting and economic renaissance of the cities of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry and also Northern Ireland as a whole.
“As a native of Coleraine I know how much the University contributes to the community there and its unwaivering commitment to my hometown.
“The University’s investment in Northern Ireland’s sporting talent has also been very impressive and it is great to see the success Ulster students have enjoyed in recent years across a number of sports including athletics, soccer, rugby, Gaelic Games, basketball, hockey and golf and to see the wonderful sports facilities it has built including the state-of-the-art High Performance Centre at Jordanstown.
“As an actor, I know how important the Riverside Theatre has been for Coleraine but the University has also shown a tremendous commitment to the arts in general whether it is through the work of the Foyle Arts Centre or the School of Art and Design in Belfast or its active support for Derry/Londonderry’s bid to become UK city of culture in 2013 – a cause I very much support. And at a time when Northern Ireland is looking to forge a bright economic future, the quality of Ulster’s research and innovation, its investment in science, technology, engineering and maths, its provision of professionally accredited degree courses and its commitment to widening access to education is inspiring.
“I am very much looking forward to taking on this role and doing what I can to advance the University of Ulster.”
Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett also welcomed James Nesbitt’s appointment.
“We are very pleased James has agreed to take on this important leadership role for the University,” he said.
“I have no doubt he will be a wonderful ambassador for Ulster and will serve the University with the same distinction as Sir Richard and other Chancellors before him. I would like to thank Sir Richard and Lady Nichols for everything they have done for the University and wish them well.”