Search for courses or information

General news

Comedy actress Sally Phillips receives honorary doctorate for her Down's syndrome advocacy

Celebrated actor cites UEL's first Chancellor, the late Lord Rix, as inspiration

Sally Phillips, the popular comedy actress known for her roles in television, film, and stage, has been recognised by the University of East London (UEL) with an honorary doctorate for her advocacy on behalf of people with Down’s syndrome.

The award of a Doctorate of Social Sciences was bestowed by the University’s School of Social Sciences at a graduation ceremony on 1 November at indigo at The O2. 

“Some people want a pair of Louboutins, but I’ve always wanted a doctorate, so this is fantastic," she joked.

She told students, “No matter what you achieve, you’ll never be just your grades or job. You are not your grades. Each of you is unique.

"Please, please, remember to keep a helping hand extended to those who can’t achieve what you’ve done today.”

Ms Phillips said she would take the honorary doctorate as encouragement to continue to advocate for people with Down’s syndrome. She noted that she had been inspired by the late Lord Brian Rix, UEL’s first Chancellor.

She said, “The commitment he showed to being an advocate for his daughter, Shelley, and others like her with Down’s syndrome is something to be celebrated by UEL.”

Twelve years ago, Ms Phillips gave birth to her first son, Olly. Ten days later a doctor told Sally and her husband "the bad news" that Olly had Down’s syndrome.

“Yes, there were some readjustments to make, but it’s been a joy in ways you wouldn’t expect," she said. "It’s a far cry from the pessimistic way having a child with Down’s is portrayed."

Ms Phillips' advocacy came into public prominence in October 2016, when she presented the BBC2 documentary, A World Without Down’s, which she also wrote.

The documentary looked at the ethics, science, and real-life stories behind a new pre-natal test for Down’s syndrome.

Ms Phillips said, “I wanted to bring about a public debate about these ‘search and destroy’ techniques, and the sort of society we’re creating. Surely we want one that is inclusive, welcoming and enriched by people with Down’s Syndrome."

Ms Phillips has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival nine times. She got her big break in 1997 playing the receptionist in the I’m Alan Partridge television show. 

She was a co-creator and one-third of the comedy sketch show Smack the Pony, which aired for Channel 4 from 1999-2003. 

In 2003, she was included in The Observer’s top 50 funniest acts in British comedy.

More recently, Ms Phillips has been recognised for her role as Tilly in the BBC sitcom Miranda, and as Shazzer in the internationally acclaimed Bridget Jones films. She currently co-presents BBC Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity, among other projects.

Kevin Shinkwin, a disabled member of the House of Lords, said, “I congratulate Sally Phillips on her well-deserved award, and I thank her for her courage as a champion of disability equality.

“She is right to highlight the urgent need for a public debate about the sort of society we’re creating. Surely anyone committed to genuine equality would agree that a truly equal society is one which recognises the intrinsic worth of every human being."