Lenny Henry has called for “no one to be left behind” in the entertainment industry after picking up the trophy for outstanding achievement at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards.
The actor, comedian and writer was presented with the ceremony’s top prize by friend and screenwriter Richard Curtis, with whom he co-founded Comic Relief in 1985.
Other winners at the awards, which celebrate all the arts, included Lily Allen, Danny Boyle, Jessie Buckley and Derry Girls.
As well as his extensive and eclectic back-catalogue of work, Henry’s campaigning for diversity in the industry was also commended at the ceremony.
Speaking to Sky News after giving his winner’s speech, he said it was an honour to receive the prize and important to keep fighting for change.
“My thing is nobody left behind, no one left behind now in our industry,” he said. “Let’s have people behind the scenes and on camera and let’s have that be diverse and representational.
“We shouldn’t have to put up with anymore, walking on a set and not seeing people who look like us. So 50-50 male-female, 15% BAME.
“You know, 0.3% people with disabilities working in our industry, that’s disgraceful. Disability isn’t just people in a wheelchair, it’s other things too. We need to be including everybody – everybody on the bus, or no bus. That’s what we’re talking about here.
“I’m 60 and I started doing the diversity stuff when I was 40-something, so that’s 20 years… people have to start making an active choice about inclusion otherwise nothing’s going to change.”
Now in its 23rd year, the Sky Arts awards show is the only ceremony in the world to celebrate every genre of the arts, including pop, dance, opera, comedy and TV.
Film producer and director Boyle won his prize in the visual arts category, for his Pages Of The Sea project marking the centenary of Armistice Day.
Speaking to Sky News, he said it was a “wonderful award” to receive as an “acknowledgement of a real community project”.
He also said he would love to get the award displayed at some of the art centres involved in the project.
“I think that would be a really beautiful acknowledgement of it,” he said. “It would be lovely to have that, that’s what I’m going to try and do with it.”
Allen took home the prize for pop music for her latest album No Shame, while Buckley took home the breakthrough award.
Star of the BAFTA-winning Beast, the country music film Wild Rose and the critically acclaimed Sky Atlantic series Chernobyl, she has already been nominated for a BAFTA Rising Star and found herself on a Forbes 30 Under 30 entertainment list so far this year.
After receiving her trophy from veteran actor Charles Dance, Buckley told Sky News it was a “complete honour” to be named a breakthrough star.
“It’s all been one really fun adventure,” she said of her roles over the past 12 months. “I’m incredibly lucky.”
BBC series A Very English Scandal was named best TV drama, while The Inheritance was named best theatre production and The Favourite, for which Olivia Colman won the Oscar for best actress earlier this year, picked up the prize for best film.
The English National Ballet won the dance award for Playlist (Track 1, 2) by William Forsythe, the classical music prize went to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the Debussy Festival, and the English National Opera took home the opera trophy for Porgy and Bess.
Diana Evans, who took home the literature trophy for the critically acclaimed Ordinary People, told Sky News she wasn’t expecting to win.
“It means a lot to me, South Bank Sky Arts, because it represents so many different areas of the arts, and support for the arts is crucial. It’s a great feeling.”
Evans also spoke about representation in the novel.
“It represents very importantly the black British middle class with truth and accuracy, which I don’t think we see very often.
“That was the driving force behind it. I was quite concerned about the lack of more positive ordinary representations of black British people because I think we’re often represented in terms of negative themes or in the context of cliches and stereotypes, and I think we really need to move beyond that and show London’s and the UK’s diversity in an ordinary fashion.”
And the award for comedy went to Channel 4’s Derry Girls, with cast members Nicola Coughlan, Louisa Harland, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell attending to pick up the prize.
“The room was full of such talent,” said Harland. “It’s pretty amazing to be here.”
“I keep staring at everyone. I wish I had binoculars, it’s class,” said Coughlan.
:: The Sky Arts Awards, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, airs on Sky Arts on Wednesday.