Famous faces from pop stars to politicians and sports stars were showered with awards at a ceremony recognising the talent that has come out of Wolverhampton.
They may have reached the top in their fields, but the Wolverhampton’s Famous Sons & Daughters awards ceremony at Molineux last night showed they still remembered their roots.
Scores of people gathered for the black-tie event which was hosted by Richard Dodd from Signal 107, along with Hugh Porter who quizzed those picking up the accolades. After guests enjoyed a drinks reception and dinner, first to pick up an award was Wolves legend Steve Bull, who was honoured for his contribution to football, and presented with his award by Lisa Webb, formerly Potts.
Bully enjoyed plenty of success during his 13-year spell with Wolves, now having a stand named after him to mark his achievements, and has gone on to raise thousands of pounds for charity since hanging up his boots.
The 48-year-old, who was born in Tipton, played with Wolves from 1986 until his retirement from playing in 1999, and holds the club’s goal scoring record with 306 goals.
The former Wednesbury Oak Primary and Willingsworth High School pupil was also capped 13 times for the England team and received an MBE for services to Association Football.
Receiving his award, he said it was ‘absolutely tremendous’ and joked that all he needed now was to receive the Freedom of the City to cap off his envious list of accolades.
Speaking about his most memorable goals, he said he always loved scoring with his left foot and he also spoke about launching The Steve Bull Foundation, which helps young people, the disabled, homeless, sick and disadvantaged.
“If you can give a little bit back, it don’t hurt you. It costs nothing,” he said.
Wolverhampton-born athlete Kristian Thomas, who hit the headlines last year after winning a bronze medal in gymnastics at the London 2012 Olympics was also awarded a gong.
More recently, he won bronze in the vault to claim Britain’s first ever medal in the event at the gymnastics world championships at Antwerp.
The 24-year-old was recognised for his contribution to British athletics, although he was unable to be there last night. His mother Catherine, of Wednesfield, accepted the award for services to gymnastics from former Olympic swimming gold medallist Anita Lonsbrough.
She said he had been ‘one happy boy’ after picking up his recent bronze medal after overcoming a number of injuries in the past year.
When asked how she felt about watching him compete, she said: “It doesn’t get any easier. Your heart is in your mouth. I just can’t watch.”
Seven years ago, Kristian attended the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, and helped the English junior gymnastics team win the bronze medal. He won the British senior all-round title in 2008, going on to be part of the British men’s team at the 2010 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam and the following year in Tokyo. He was part of the team that clinched the silver medal at the 2010 European Championships in Birmingham, going one better in 2012 when the team won the gold medal at Montpellier.
Heptathlete Denise Lewis, who wore a striking blue dress to the ceremony, picked up her award from previous winner Sir Geoff Hampton, a former headteacher of Northicote School.
The star, who was a member of Birchfield Harriers and first competed in the heptathlon in 1989 as a junior, bagged gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The 41-year-old later received an OBE and was also given the Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton.
Picking up her award, she said she had been lucky to have coaches who gave up their time and said sport wasn’t easy, admitting that she had suffered injuries along the way.
Speaking about taking part in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2004, she admitted it was tough. “There were times you bruised,” she said. “You used to get burns on your elbows and things but it was a great experience.” One Direction heartthrob Liam Payne, who has a string of hit singles, albums and awards under his belt with the boyband, was also honoured at the ceremony.
The 20-year-old had dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete growing up and joined the Wolverhampton & Bilston Athletics Club.
But as a teenager, his focus switched solely to his singing, joining a performance arts group while attending St Peter’s Collegiate School before studying music technology at Wolverhampton College.
He first auditioned for X Factor when he was 14 and reached the judges’ houses stage before being turned down by Simon Cowell.
He returned to the show on a later series and was put in a band after reaching the bootcamp stage of the competition. One Direction finished third in the finals, but the boys have gone on to enjoy massive success worldwide with hits including What Makes You Beautiful.
He is currently on a worldwide tour with the group so was unable to be at the ceremony, but a video message was shown from the singer who said that despite winning others, it was the most important award he had received.
He said: “I just wanted to say a massive thank you for this. My band’s picked up a lot of awards over the past few years, but for me, this is the one I’m definitely most grateful for.
“Wolverhampton’s my home and it always will be. I just wanted to say a massive thank you to all those people years ago who gave me the opportunities that I needed to get me where I am today, and I wanted to say a massive thank you to the people that nominated me for this.
“Like I say, it’s definitely the most important award. It’s going to take pride on my shelf.” Collecting the award for his contribution to popular music were his parents Karen and Geoff, both 52, of Codsall. His father said he thought hearing his son’s record on Radio 1 would have been the pinnacle of his career, but added: “We’ve far surpassed that now.”
His mother said: “It’s made us very proud as a family. We are overwhelmed with what he’s achieved in his young life.” She said that despite suffering from kidney problems as a child and spending time in hospital, his lifestyle with the band had helped him recover.
She added: “He’s had a hard start but what an achievement. Sometimes I watch him on TV and my heart skips a beat. I’ve been to see the One Direction movie, This Is Us, four times.
“It’s amazing. I always believed he would be famous but never quite this fast.”
Lead guitarist of Slade Dave Hill was awarded a gong for his contribution to media, arts and entertainment. The 67-year-old, who was known for his flamboyant stage clothes and hairstyle, was born in Devon but moved to Penn at a young age.
Picking up his award from previous winner and former professional cyclist Hugh Porter, the former Highfields Secondary School pupil told the audience how he had bought his first instrument for £7.50 from the Kays Catalogue.
Former England goalkeeper Bert Williams was also on the list of winners at this year’s ceremony. The 93-year-old, who was nicknamed The Cat during his playing days, is one of the best-loved Wolves players and even has a leisure centre named after him.
Mr Williams had started playing competitive football as a young man as a member of the 19th Wolverhampton Company of the Boys’ Brigade.
Offered a place with Walsall’s reserves, while playing for the works team of the local factory at which he worked, he turned professional in April 1937. He joined the RAF in the Second World War and signed for Wolves for £3,500 when the conflict was over. He was given an MBE for services to football and charity in the 2010 Birthday Honours and has also raised more than £150,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of his wife, who died in 2002.
He was unable to attend last night but was represented by his daughter Ann and son Paul, who received the award from ex-Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray.
Speaking about how Mr Williams reacted to news that he would be receiving the award, his 72-year-old daughter, from Caynton, Shropshire, said: “He was over the moon. He’s very proud of his roots.”His 54-year-old son, of Grindle Forge, Shropshire, said he had loved every minute of his career, and speaking about what he was like as a father, he said: “He was caring, he was loving, he was inspirational.”
The final recipient of an award was Bradley-born Lord Dennis Turner, Baron Bilston, who was recognised for his outstanding contribution to the city. The 71-year-old served as an MP from 1987 to 2005. He was one of the youngest ever councillors on Wolverhampton Council from 1966, rising to become deputy leader for seven years, serving on West Midlands County Council from 1973 to 1986. In 2005, he was created a life peer with the title Baron Bilston.
He was presented with his award by Wolverhampton’s mayor Councillor Milkinder Jaspal.
He said: “Bradley is really a wonderful place to be born and grow up in.”
Speaking on behalf of the recipients at the end of the ceremony, he paid tribute to the organisers. The ceremony was driven by Wolverhampton business organisation Partners in Progress, with support from Wolverhampton City Council, Wolverhampton University and the Express & Star.