The artistic director of an international music festival who led the “world’s oldest boy band” to global fame has been awarded a top honour.

Ann Atkinson, who runs the North Wales International Music Festival, has been made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in London,  the oldest and most prestigious conservatoire in the UK.

The accolade for her contribution to the world of music was also, she said, a birthday present for the St Asaph-based festival that’s celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

This year’s festival started on September 17 and carries on until October, culminating with the final concert starring the young baritone, Emyr Lloyd Jones, who’s been hailed as the new Bryn Terfel, along with resident orchestra NEW Sinfonia and the National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain.

Back in 2019 Ann, who lives in Corwen, was presented with the Sir Geraint Evans Award for her “significant contribution to Welsh music” by the Welsh Music Guild.

Ann is also a hugely talented mezzo soprano and has frequently starred at the renowned Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

In addition, she is also the musical director of two male voice choirs, Côr Meibion Trelawnyd and Côr Meibion Bro Glyndwr, as well as being a vocal tutor to a new generation of future singing stars.

She previously conducted the Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir which was “discovered” by pop producer Daniel Glatman – who steered the boy band, Blue, to fame and chart success – after he heard them singing at a wedding reception.

As a result, he helped the choir, dubbed the world’s oldest boy band, sign a lucrative record deal and sold the rights to their story to a Hollywood producer.

Ann admits the experience was “unreal” at times – and something she could never have imagined when she started out in the music business.

She won a scholarship to train at the Royal Academy of Music, in London, and while she was there she won several other prestigious awards including the Leverhulme Scholarship.

On top of that, she has won a string of top competition prizes including firsts at the National Eisteddfod and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.

Ann went straight from the Royal Academy to Scottish Opera and rose to prominence at Glyndebourne.

She said: “The recognition from my old college, my alma mater means a great deal. It’s a great honour and privilege.

“Life is incredibly busy and this is a pat on the back for what you do and that’s very important. I’m very touched and very humbled by it.

“Going back there was wonderful because my husband, Kevin, came with me so it was a lovely trip down memory lane for both of us because we met at the Royal Academy.

“It was very special for the two of us and it was lovely to see people that we both knew.

“The Royal Academy opened the door to a new world and was the launchpad for my career.

“I left the Academy in July 1992 and went straight into a professional job at Scottish Opera which was incredible.

“I spent a lot of time up there and loved it and it opened the door to travelling, concerts – all sorts. They gave you the platform and the opportunity to make the most of your talent.

“I was at Glyndebourne for four years solid and I sang during the first night when they opened the new £33 million opera house, singing in The Marriage of Figaro.

“I have toured up and down the country with many opera companies and I played the MP Ann Clwyd in the opera about the story of the Tower Colliery which was saved by the miners’ co-operative

“My career has also given me the opportunity to travel. I’ve been to Vietnam, I’ve toured New Zealand, Australia, Europe and America.

“As a soloist, singing at the Sydney Opera House has been a definite highlight but, whisper it quietly, the acoustic was very disappointing in there.”

Ann added: “What was nice during the ceremony was that they said we were like ambassadors for the Academy in every walk of life – from the jazz pianist, to the singers, the agents and even a forensic musician.

“I also met up with one of my ex-students, Lisa Dafydd, from Ruthin, who is now doing a Master’s at the Academy, so it was lovely to see things coming full circle.”

This year’s music festival at St Asaph Cathedral has been made possible thanks to the support of the Arts Council of Wales and the headline sponsor, the Pendine Arts and Community Trust that was set up by the Pendine Park care organisation to provide funding for arts and community activities.

Other sponsors include Jones Bros, Colwinston Charitable Trust, Arts & Business Cymru, Tŷ Cerdd, Salisburys Accountants, Tŷ Architecture and manorhaus.