Congratulations to GSA alumnus and GSA Advisory Group member Kobna Holdbrook-Smith MBE, on his award of an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of Surrey, in recognition of his extraordinary acting achievements and impactful advocacy for the arts.
Presenting Kobna with the award at the July 2023 graduation ceremony, GSA Head of School, Professor Catherine McNamara highlighted Kobna's many achievements, strong roots with Surrey (and GSA), and lots more. Read Catherine's citation:
Kobna is a supremely talented artist with a proud record of advocacy for the arts, for equality and for the power of storytelling. Kobna is an Olivier Award winner, winning Best Actor in a Musical in 2019 for his role as Ike Turner in Tina the Musical. So great has been the impact of his work that in 2020 he was awarded an MBE for Services to Drama in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Born in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, Kobna moved to England with his family and grew up in Frimley in Surrey; he studied at our own GSA, graduating from the BA Acting in 2000.
I am proud to say his achievements have strong Surrey roots – roots he nurtures to this day as an Advisory Group member of the Guildford School of Acting.
I first encountered Kobna and his work in 2014 when I was attending the Act for Change Project events at the Young Vic and the National Theatre. He and his fellow campaigners led a powerful and highly effective movement over a period of years. They were pushing hard to strengthen diversity in the live and recorded arts and to better represent the country we live in, in all aspects of our industries. The Act for Change project team were seeking to improve representation with respect to (but not limited to) race, gender, age, class, physical ability and sexuality. In this regard, Kobna has had a direct and significant impact on the creative and cultural industries.
When thinking about introducing Kobna today, I was speaking with a colleague here at the School – someone who was also a student of GSA at the same time. She told me that she and Kobna were fight partners during their Stage Combat training. She vividly remembers their fight sequence and the way she poked Kobna in his eyes over and over again as they rehearsed their scenes! Of course, I’m very happy to say they passed Stage Combat with flying colours and the fight was a well-choreographed performance and nobody was injured!
Many of you will know of Kobna’s accomplishments already but let me acknowledge just a few of them. A couple of favourites in my house are his performance of the vicar, Glen Peters in the legal drama television series, The Split. And we all watched His Dark Materials this Christmas, the fantasy drama television series based on the trilogy of novels by Philip Pullman in which Kobna plays Balthamos.
Going back almost 20 years, in 2006 Kobna was nominated for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Award at the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards, for his performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and he has worked in theatre ever since. Kobna’s work in film includes DC Comics Justice League, Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns.
Despite this incredible level of busyness, Kobna has never forgotten the connection he shares with GSA. From time to time, he returns to campus to take part in events such as ‘Change through the Arts’ in 2017 for example. Kobna was among the first of the Advisory Group members that I met when I started my own role here as Head of GSA in May last year and his support means a great deal to us.
Pro-Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his extraordinary acting achievements and impactful advocacy for the arts, it gives me great pleasure to present Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as eminently worthy of the Degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.
Watch the full FASS Graduation ceremony here (See Kobna's conferment: 52-minute mark).