A graduation ceremony at Loughborough University.

Achievements of inspiring individuals recognised with honorary degrees

As part of the University’s winter graduation ceremonies, six inspiring individuals were awarded honorary degrees for their outstanding contributions in their respective fields.

Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja MBE, Diane-Louise Jordan, Mary Earps, Helen Calcutt, Rebecca Heaton and Sir Michael Berry were all recognised and celebrated by the University community for their achievements, which span military service, mountaineering, broadcasting, championing inclusivity, sport, the arts, mathematical and theoretical physics, and sustainability. 

Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja MBE 

World record-breaking mountaineer and Loughborough alumnus Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja MBE has been recognised by the University for his outstanding military service and achievements as a multi-world record-breaking mountaineer. 

Nims first hit the public spotlight in 2019 when he climbed all 14 of the world’s ‘Death Zone’ peaks in just six months and six days. His incredible journey was captured in the 2021 Netflix film ‘14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible’.   

Born in Nepal, Nims had a distinguished 16-year military career, of which he spent six years as a Gurkha and 10 years with the UK Special Forces. It was during this time he developed an interest in mountaineering that quickly turned into a passion, accumulating an ever-growing list of record-breaking summits alongside many high-altitude rescue missions.  

His Loughborough journey began in 2012 when he joined the University’s Business School to study for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Security Management, which he completed in 2014.  

In 2018 Nims was awarded an MBE from Her Majesty The Queen for his outstanding achievement in extreme high-altitude mountaineering. And in 2022 the Business School presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his exceptional successes in mountaineering, along with his commitment to the United Nations Environment Programme and the mountain community in Nepal.  

Today Nims is celebrated as one of the greatest climbers of his generation. 

Nims Purja speaking on stage, standing behind a lectern, wearing graduation wear..

Diane-Louise Jordan 

Diane-Louise Jordan has been celebrated by the University for her outstanding contribution to broadcasting and her continued work championing equality and inclusivity. 

She has been a broadcaster for more than 30 years, first hitting the nation’s screens in 1990 when she was selected to appear on the BBC’s Blue Peter – becoming the first Black presenter of the show. Following six years on the programme, when Diane decided to move on, Blue Peter dedicated two whole shows to her departure – a first in the show’s history. 

After Blue Peter she took up a position on Songs of Praise on BBC1 – where she spent two decades. She has also spent early mornings hosting The Sunday Hour on Radio 2. 

Her versatility as a presenter became evident in her numerous other TV and radio credits, including Countryfile, Out & About, Bright Sparks, and the Antiques Road Show.  

As a passionate activist, Diane dedicates time to charity and to promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities. 

She is an ambassador for CBM – an international charity that works to prevent blindness among the world’s most disadvantaged areas – and has held trustee roles with The Prince’s Trust and Children in Need. 

During the last three years, Diane has developed an oral history archive, The Making of Black Britain, which seeks to tell stories and explore what it means to be British. 

Diane wearing graduation wear smiling at the camera stood outside on a playing field

Mary Earps 

Lioness’ goalkeeper and Loughborough alumna Mary Earps has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to football and to women’s sport. 

She made her senior football debut in 2010 aged 17 and following spells at Doncaster Rovers Belles, Birmingham City, Bristol City, and Reading in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL), she moved to two-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winners VfL Wolfsberg in Germany. 

Following a season on the continent, Earps transferred back to England and joined Manchester United in the WSL. She currently holds the number one spot at The Red Devils and has recorded over 80 appearances for the club. 

After six years of playing competitive football, Earps made her full international debut in 2017 and became a regular in Sarina Wiegman’s side, including playing every minute of all six games as the Lionesses remarkably won the UEFA Women’s European Championships in 2022. 

A year later, at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, Earps served as vice-captain for England and played in all of England’s seven matches, conceding just four goals. 

England narrowly missed out on World Cup glory as they were defeated 1-0 by Spain in the final – a match in which Earps became the first England goalkeeper in ten years – either Men’s or Women’s – to save a penalty from open play by keeping out Jennifer Hermoso’s 68th minute strike. 

She was named the best goalkeeper at the tournament and awarded the Golden Glove accolade. 

Earps was also crowned The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper 2022 at The Best FIFA Football Awards™ – one of the most prestigious award ceremonies in world football – and made history at the Ballon D’or awards by finishing fifth in the Feminin Award, the highest ever ranking for a goalkeeper. 

She was voted BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2023 and has been shortlisted for the 2023 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. The winner will be announced on December 19. 

Mary Earps holding a football shirt 
Helen Calcutt

Award-winning poet, dance artist and choreographer, Helen Calcutt has been celebrated for her contribution to the arts. 

She has more than a decade’s experience of performing, devising and facilitating various forms of creative expression in the UK and around the world and is the author of three volumes of poetry. 

Helen is the Artistic Director of ‘Beyond Words’ – a ground-breaking new company that seeks to translate written language into dance – and has been a Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Loughborough since 2017, spending a year as the University’s Poet in Residence. 

In 2019, Helen curated the acclaimed anthology, Eighty-Four, which features male and female voices sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues and grief. It is both an uncensored exposure of the truth, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences. The powerful anthology was both a Poetry Wales Book of the Year and shortlisted for a Saboteur Award in 2019. 

The following year, Helen released her poignant collection titled Somehow. The series of poems display the poise and precision of a poet at the height of her powers, weaving the awful into something relatable and filled with the light of understanding. 

Alongside such thought-provoking poetry, Helen choreographs and performs as a dance artist, working with numerous acclaimed organisations including The Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Sonia Sabri Company, and the deaf dance company Def Motion.   

In 2022, she was able to showcase her work to the world as one of six poets selected to perform at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Birmingham, directed by Iqbal Khan and choreographed by Corey Baker. 

Helen Calcutt with Christine Hodgson, Professor Nick Jennings and Lord Sebastian Coe KBE.

Rebecca Heaton 

Rebecca Heaton, the Director of Environmental Sustainability for Lloyds Banking Group, has been recognised for her work in helping large organisations develop their environmental strategies. 

Her journey to Lloyds began with an undergraduate course in Forestry at Bangor University where she obtained a first-class degree in 1993. From there she moved to Cardiff and obtained her Doctorate in Energy Crop Growing and Economics in 2000. 

Rebecca’s first role in industry came in 2002 when she joined leading agricultural and environmental consultancy ADAS as a Senior Renewable Energy Consultant. In 2006 she joined the multinational oil and gas company BP in a strategy role, and in 2009 she moved to another giant of the fuel sector, Shell where she held scientific, analyst and strategy posts.  

In 2015 Rebecca moved to energy company, Drax Group as Head of Sustainability, then Head of Climate Change, in 2021 she joined another leading power company, OVO Energy where she held the role of Director of Sustainability, before joining Lloyds in May 2022.   

Rebecca’s knowledge and ever-growing expertise has been utilised by the UK Committee on Climate Change, appointed to strengthen the Committee’s expertise on business affairs. She was a member of committee between 2017 and 2021.  

Since 2020 Rebecca has also been a Non-Executive Director of the Natural Environment Research Council and is also a member of think tank The Resolution Foundation 2030 Advisory Board. The Foundation aims to improve the living standards of low to middle income families.   

She is a Fellow of the Institute of Welsh Affairs and The Institute of Chartered Foresters. 

Rebecca Heaton with Professor Nick Jennings and Lord Sebastian Coe KBE.

Sir Michael Berry 

World-famous mathematical physicist Sir Michael Berry has been celebrated by the University for his outstanding contribution to mathematical and theoretical physics. 

Sir Michael has contributed significantly to the understanding of mathematical physics, publishing several hundred research papers and book reviews. His areas of speciality include semiclassical physics applied to wave phenomena in quantum mechanics. 

In the 1980s, he worked on a paper establishing the Berry phase – also known as the geometric phase. The Berry Phase is a phenomenon observed in quantum mechanics and optics. The research that he conducted in the ‘borderlands’ between classical and quantum theories and ray and wave optics led to his discovery of the geometric phase. 

Sir Michael has made important contributions to semiclassical physics, asymptotic analysis and the theory of quantum chaos, as well as to a wide variety of the applications.  

His extraordinary work has been recognised in countless ways – not least through the Queen’s Honours list. Michael Berry was knighted in 1996, becoming a Sir. 

He has also been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1982 and has been awarded the Lilienfeld Prize of American Physical Society (1990), Dirac Medal (Italy, 1996), Wolf Prize for Physics (Israel, 1998), Onsager Medal (Norway, 2001) and Lorentz Medal (Netherlands, 2014) to name a few. 

In his academic life, Michael gained his degree from Exeter before studying for his PhD at St Andrews University. His postdoctoral research in theoretical physics at Bristol University, as a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Fellow began his lifelong career at the institution, where he is now an Emeritus Professor.

Sir Michael Berry with Professor Nick Jennings and Lord Sebastian Coe KBE.