Theatre owners have pulled off a shock victory winning an award ahead of Hollywood heavyweight Kenneth Branagh.
William Whelton and his fiancée Joseph Houston scooped the Theatre and Performance gong in the annual Hospital Club awards.
They faced stiff opposition and were up against Kenneth Branagh for his work in Hollywood with the hit film Thor, and Cynthia Erivo, who won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple.
William and Joseph, 25, who live in Wincle, were rewarded for their efforts transforming a former mill in Manchester into a 150-seat theatre.
They gave up their promising careers as actors to realise their dream of running their own theatre, Hope Mill.
Joseph said: “It was completely unexpected when our names were announced as the winners.
“We knew the competition was stiff, with names such as Kenneth Branagh to compete with, so weren’t expecting much.
“It was very overwhelming and emotional when we received the award and we tried very hard to talk a little about what we do to the room and stress the importance of how much of a creative, artistic city Manchester has become.”
William, a former All Hallows pupil, trained as an actor in London and met Joseph while touring in shows across Australia.
The couple took the lease on the Grade II listed mill a year ago and since have housed many emerging Northern-based theatre companies, actors, writers and directors, as well as small touring shows.
William added: “We took such a risk opening Hope Mill Theatre and it’s a struggle being completely self-funded but with a lot of hard work and determination we’ve managed to create something very special in a city that we have fallen in love with. It is recognition like this that makes it all worthwhile.”
The Hospital Club is a creative members club in London launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and David Stewart, formerly of the band Eurythmics. Each year they search for the most innovative and talented people working across the UK’s creative industries including film, music, gaming, art design & craft, broadcast, advertising & PR, fashion and publishing.