Covid vaccine co-creator Sarah Gilbert among 2022 UEA honorary graduates

Professor Sarah Gilbert

Professor Sarah Gilbert, a graduate of the University of East Anglia, who helped developed the coronavirus vaccine. - Credit: John Cairns

The co-creator of the coronavirus vaccine, a former Blue Peter presenter and the bestselling writer behind the Jack Reacher series are among those set to become honorary UEA graduates.

Having been forced to cancel recognising the achievements of its students two years running due to the pandemic, the University of East Anglia will hold its first graduation ceremonies in three years in 2022.

The UEA has postponed its graduation ceremonies for the second time due to coronavirus. 

The UEA has postponed its graduation ceremonies for the second time due to coronavirus. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Every graduation ceremony has an honorary graduate, rewarding an individual for outstanding accomplishments in their field or for notable contributions to their community, and 2022 will see a bumper list of 26 including some notable names.

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the co-creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, who began her career as a young student in biological sciences at the UEA, will receive an honorary doctorate in science.

Prof Sarah Gilbert receives her Barbie doll.

Prof Sarah Gilbert receives her Barbie doll. - Credit: PA

It’s the latest recognition for the vaccinologist, who led the development of the Covid vaccine at Oxford University and who has also been made a dame, been given an emotional standing ovation at Wimbledon and even had a Barbie doll made in her honour.

She said: “It is wonderful to be awarded an honorary degree from the university at which I began my scientific career. I look forward to visiting the campus next year to see how things have changed.”

Norfolk TV presenter Simon Thomas.

Norfolk TV presenter Simon Thomas. - Credit: Jonny Barratt Photography

Simon Thomas, who presented Blue Peter from 1999 to 2005, in the process travelling to more than 25 countries, skydiving with the RAF Falcons and giving the Queen a gold Blue Peter badge, will receive an honorary doctorate in letters.


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Having had his world turned upside down in 2017 when his first wife died very suddenly from blood cancer, the Norfolk TV star he has become president of Blood Cancer UK, wrote a book on his story and now hosts a popular podcast series called Life Interrupted.

He returned to presenting live football last year and in July this year he married Derrina Jebb at Norwich Cathedral.

“Being Norfolk born and bred, receiving an honorary degree by UEA is a massive honour and a hugely proud moment. This means an awful lot to me,” he said.

Lee Child

Bestselling author Lee Child. - Credit: Tasha Alexander

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Also receiving an honorary doctorate in letters will be Lee Child, who after being made redundant from Granada Television in 1995 decided to try his hand as a novelist, and became a global bestseller with the Jack Reacher series, made into films starring Tom Cruise. 

He said: “Recognition is delightful for any writer, but to get it from UEA is especially meaningful, because UEA is the writers' university, and they know what they're talking about."

Naomi Alderman

Naomi Alderman. - Credit: Annabel Moeller

Fellow writer Naomi Alderman, whose acclaimed novel The Power won the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction, will also be honoured, as will former junior doctor turned writer and comedian Adam Kay, whose book, This is Going to Hurt,  has sold more than 2.5 million copies.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be awarded an honorary degree by such an inspiring institution as UEA, not just famed the world over for its creative writing course, but with a ground-breaking and hugely respected medical school. I just hope I don’t bring down the tone too much,” he said.

Sir Norman Lamb.

Sir Norman Lamb. - Credit: UEA

New honorary graduates with a strong local connection will include former Norfolk North MP Sir Norman Lamb who will receive an honorary doctorate in civil law.

As health minister, Sir Norman worked to reform the care system and campaigned for better NHS mental health treatment.

“I’m massively honoured to be awarded this degree given that it was my father’s appointment to UEA that first brought me and my family to Norfolk as a teenager, so I have always felt a close association with UEA,” he said.

Lord Richard Dannatt.

Lord Richard Dannatt. - Credit: Lorentz Gullachsen

Lord Richard Dannatt, who was a soldier for 40 years, concluding his military career as head of the British Army, will also be honoured.

Since retiring from active duty in 2009, he has lived in Norfolk and served on a number of boards in the charitable and private sectors. His wife, Philippa, was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk in 2019.

He said: “It is a tremendous privilege and a great pleasure to have been awarded an honorary degree by the University of East Anglia. 

“It has been incredible to watch how the university has grown and developed over the years and I look forward to doing whatever I can to help the UEA achieve even greater success.”

Laura McGillivray

Laura McGillivray. - Credit: UEA

Others to be recognised include education campaigner and Labour’s county council lead for children and young people Mike Smith-Clare and former Norwich City Council chief executive Laura McGillivray who served on UEA Council for 15 years, including as chair during the pandemic.

“UEA is so close to my heart, it will be wonderful to be able to come to the university and receive the degree at the same time as so many students,” she said.

Mr Smith-Clare said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded an honorary degree. The UEA is an incredible university which impacts not just on the lives of its students, but on communities both in this country and around the world. I am incredibly proud and humbled to be recognised by this prestigious institution.”

More 2022 UEA honorary graduates 

Prof Mary Chamberlain – honorary doctorate in letters
Pioneer of oral history who has published six historical monographs on women’s history and Caribbean history and migration.

Prof Jamie Bartram – honorary doctorate in science
Public health scientist specialising in environment and health and water supply and sanitation working in more than 60 countries worldwide.

Jamie Bartram

Jamie Bartram. - Credit: UEA

Kip Bertram – honorary doctorate in letters
Founder of Norwich-based Bertram Books which grew to become the largest wholesaler of books in the UK, employing 750 people.

Prof Tony Davies – honorary doctorate in science
Internationally recognised expert on chemical analysis by near infrared spectroscopy who grew up in Norfolk and worked for Colman Foods and the Institute of Food Research.

Dr Kathryn Skoyles – honorary doctorate in civil law
Norfolk solicitor and former partner of London law firm Titmuss Sainer who has served as deputy chair of UEA Council.

Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell – honorary doctorate in science
Having inadvertently discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge, her work was recognised by a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.  In 2008 became the first female president of the Institute of Physics for the UK.

Mike Rands

Mike Rands. - Credit: Andrzej Bugajski

Mike Rands – honorary doctorate in science
After graduating in environmental sciences, led the UEA Nepal Expedition investigating mammal populations in the Himalayas in 1978/9. In 1996 he was appointed chief executive of BirdLife International.

Dr Ray Jones – honorary doctorate in civil law
More than 50 years’ experience as a social work practitioner, manager, teacher and researcher who became chair of the British Association of Social Workers.

Prof Paul Wellings – honorary doctorate in science
UEA alumnus and distinguished research ecologist and university leader who has advised Australian and British governments on aspects of higher education.

Hermione Elliott – honorary doctorate in civil law
A career in nursing, midwifery and community, pastoral and palliative care, led her to establish charity Living Well Dying Well.

Hannah Fry

Hannah Fry. - Credit: Paul Wilkinson

Prof Hannah Fry – honorary doctorate in science
Associate professor in the Mathematics of Cities at University College London who uses mathematical models to study patterns in human behaviour.

Dr Anna Keay – honorary doctorate in letters
Historian, curator and former curator at Historic Royal Palaces and English Heritage who has written books and presented history programmes on Channel 4. 

Ismail Ahmed – honorary doctorate in civil law
Having escaped conflict in Somaliland he worked as a strawberry picker in Kent before launching WorldRemit, a mobile money transfer system with four million customers worldwide.

David Hill.

David Hill. - Credit: UEA

David Hill – honorary doctorate in civil law
Executive chairman of Jarrold & Sons, trustee of the John Innes Foundation, governor of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library and Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk.

Dr Simon Thurley – honorary doctorate in letters
Historian who has held some of the most important posts in national culture and heritage over the last 30 years.

Peter Simpson – honorary doctorate in science
Chief executive of Anglian Water Group since 2013 who studied for an MSc in Analytical Chemistry at UEA.

Steve Davidson – honorary doctorate in civil law
Chair of the advisory board of Norwich Business School at UEA since 2018.

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