Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Mark Featherstone-Witty RNOM OBE

Oration

Presented by Gemma Bodinetz

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Mark Featherstone-Witty for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

Mark is the Founding Principal and Chief Executive of LIPA and he is presented today in recognition of his outstanding achievement in the creation and development of performing arts education. As well as LIPA, this has included the BRIT School in London, LIPA Primary School, LIPA Sixth Form College and there are plans to develop a LIPA High School in the future – a whole educational eco-system around the LIPA offering.

Unsurprisingly for this is how it is often now described, Mark was inspired by the 1980s film ‘Fame’ to build a school that provided young people with the best possible preparation for a sustained performing arts career.

He started by doing his research and asking the professionals about the skills they identified themselves as critical to their success and survival. Amongst those from whom he sought advice was the Beatles producer, the late George Martin, who he described as the Godfather of the BRIT School. George provided the vital link to Mark’s next significant partnership by introducing him to Paul McCartney.

Paul was keen to save his old school building here in the city, the former Liverpool Institute for Boys, and Mark was keen to extend his performing arts framework into higher education. They proved an ideal match – their optimism and drive, combined with the higher education partnership they formed with Liverpool John Moores University, made the LIPA dream a reality. Some 22 years later, LIPA has been the launchpad for thousands of talented students and its various outreach activities have attracted pupils from across the country to participate in extracurricular courses and programmes.

Mark was born in London and had an early attraction to the performing arts when he saw the 1933 film 42nd Street. His career began in teaching, both in London and American, and he worked as an Educational Editor writing reviews and profiles for a variety of national magazines and newspapers until he became Principal of Holborn Tutorial College. He applied his entrepreneurial approach to developing a variety of private enterprise colleges until Richard Branson introduced him to George Martin and he began to realise his ambition of creating a bespoke programmes of education for the performing arts.

LIPA has been a unique story, throughout its 22 years it has attracted students from across the world who learn from the very best in the industry; the masterclasses alone read like a who’s who of the arts and entertainment industry and Mark has ensured that lead patron, Paul McCartney, remains close to the School attending the annual graduation ceremonies and dropping in for surprise Q and A sessions with the students.

It takes an individual with passion and vision to create a new educational landscape and particularly one in the competitive and challenging world of the performing arts. Mark is a true visionary, he is a character with drive and determination who has navigated the tricky worlds of the performing arts and the educational establishment to create an authentic pathway for LIPA graduates to succeed in such a competitive world. 

And so, for his sustained, outstanding achievement in developing performing arts education, it is with great pleasure that I present Mark Featherstone-Witty for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.