Opera star Sir Thomas Allen, who was born in County Durham, is to be awarded the Queen's Medal for Music 2013. The baritone and director has been recognised by Buckingham Palace for his major musical influence on the nation.
The Seaham-born singer is said to be the inspiration behind Billy Elliot. Sir Thomas' talent was first discovered at grammar school in the 1960s. He went on to earn a place at the Royal College of Music.
He made his debut with the Royal Opera House as Donald in Billy Budd in 1971. In 1989, he was made a CBE and 10 years later he was knighted.
Pupils at Excelsior Academy, Newcastle, will perform the Barber of Seville opera with the cast from the London-based Diva Opera company in their school hall on October 15. The 11-18-year-olds have been practising for weeks in preparation for playing the parts of soldiers and peasants.
The classic opera has been specially amended by the Diva Opera stars to include references to Newcastle United and North East landmarks.