Winners Announced for the 2020 South Bank Sky Arts Awards

Thursday 10 December 2020

Ian McKellen, Waad al-Kateab, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Dave and Steve McQueen all receive awards

10th December 2020

The winners of this year’s 24th annual South Bank Sky Arts Awards were announced yesterday in a socially distanced ceremony at the London Coliseum, home of English National Opera. Hosted by Melvyn Bragg, the awards continue their legacy as the only awards ceremony in the world to represent the entire spectrum of the arts, with categories for TV Drama, Classical Music, Theatre, Comedy, Dance, Film, Visual Art, Pop, Literature and Opera. The awards will be free for everyone to watch on Sky Arts, Freeview channel 11, at 8pm on Sunday 20th December.

Ian McKellen took to the stage to accept the Outstanding Achievement Award, recognising his incomparable contribution to theatre and film. He joins Tracey Emin, Harold Pinter, Julie Walters, Sylvia Guillem, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Who, Paul Abbott, Simon Rattle, Eddie Izzard, and Sir Lenny Henry in the Outstanding Achievement hall of fame. He was also congratulated via video by Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren.

Receiving his award, Ian McKellen commented:

“I am very happy and honoured to be in the company of the nominees for this tricky year’s South Bank Sky Arts awards…The closure of theatres in response to an outside threat to the country, is not unprecedented. When another plague reached London 450 years ago, the theatres were closed and Shakespeare’s company was out of work. No furlough. His response to one lockdown was to write Macbeth, Antony & Cleopatra and King Lear. I hope during our lockdowns that playwrights have been busy writing plays. More, I hope others have been planning and imagining future productions.”

The Times Breakthrough Award was awarded to Waad al-Kateab, the Syrian journalist, filmmaker and activist whose critically-acclaimed documentary For Sama won two BAFTAs and an Academy Award. She joins the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Billie Piper, Stormzy, Amma Asante, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Jessie Buckley as Times Breakthrough recipients.

In television, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s renowned series Fleabag won the Comedy category, seeing off Netflix’s Sex Education and Channel 4’s Home. Meanwhile, Sky Original drama Chernobyl won out in the TV Drama category for its unflinching portrayal of the nuclear accident.

In music, Dave conquered the Pop category with his winning album Psychodrama, fighting off Kano and Michael Kiwanuka. In Classical Music, Thea Musgrave’s Trumpet Concerto triumphed, whilst The Royal Opera took home the coveted Opera trophy for Katya Kabanova. Northern Ballet were thrilled to accept the Dance award for their production of Victoria, with Choreographer Cathy Marston commenting, “It’s so exciting to think back after such a challenging year to a time when we were in the studio creating and inspiring one another.”

Haunting masterpiece The Souvenir took home the Film award, with director Joanna Hogg and actor Tilda Swinton joining the ceremony via video to accept the gong. The Sheffield Crucible won this year’s hotly contested theatre award for its outstanding production Standing at the Sky’s Edge, collected by Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres.

Steve McQueen’s Year 3, which appeared at Tate Britain and on billboards across London won the Visual Art category. Joining the ceremony from Amsterdam, Steve thanked “all of the schoolchildren and their teachers. Here’s to their future.” Meanwhile, Edna O’Brien triumphed in the Literature category for her masterful novel Girl, inspired by the women abducted by Boko Haram.

Phil Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts and Entertainment, commented:

“Congratulations to all the winners of the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. We all know what a difficult year it’s been for everyone who works in the arts so to see the level of talent, creativity and entertainment in show here is heartwarming and kind of heartbreaking at the same time. Here’s to 2021 and the road to recovery.”

Two special performances also took place on stage over the course of the evening. Trumpet virtuoso Alison Balsom performed her own arrangement of Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in D minor whilst Faith Omole gave a rendition of Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ from Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

Trumpet Virtuoso Alison Balsom commented:

“The UK performing arts industry has been the envy of the world for decades, centuries. But this year has been, there is no other way to describe it, than catastrophic for tens and thousands of artists and creatives, but also joyless for the millions of us who know that the Arts give us all something to live for. That the South Bank Sky Arts Awards have yet again been able to recognise more of these achievements, despite everything, is a ray of hope for the future.

Full List of Winners

Classical Music
Thea Musgrave Trumpet Concerto
Cheltenham Music Festival / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

BBC Three and Amazon Prime Video / Two Brothers Pictures Ltd

Northern Ballet

The Souvenir

Edna O’Brien

Katya Kabanova
The Royal Opera


Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

TV Drama
Sister / The Mighty Mint / Word Games / Sky Atlantic / HBO

Visual Art
Steve McQueen: Year 3
Tate Britain and billboards across London
A partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction

The Times Breakthrough Award
Waad al-Kateab

Outstanding Achievement Award
Ian McKellen

Notes to Editors

Further information please contact Lucy Butterfield:

About Sky Arts

As the UK’s only dedicated Arts channel, Sky Arts exists to bring more art to more people across the UK. By throwing open the doors to make the channel free to air, we want to increase access to and participation in the arts.

Offering something for everyone, whatever their passion, Sky Arts showcases the best of classical and popular music, theatre, opera, dance and the visual arts, as well as original drama and comedy.

About Directors Cut Productions

Directors Cut Productions is an independent television production company based in Central London. Set up in 2010 by Melvyn Bragg and Cathy Haslam, who had worked together for ten years at ITV, the company produces Arts and History documentaries for UK television broadcasters. Directors Cut Productions produce all South Bank Show branded programmes for Sky Arts, as well as producing the annual SBSA Awards.


About Sky

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Our technology, including the market leading Sky Q, connects people to everything they love - TV, music, games, online video, fitness and educational content, all in one place, easy. Our streaming service, NOW TV, brings viewers all the enjoyment of Sky with the flexibility of a contract-free service.

Building on the success of Sky Originals like Chernobyl, I Hate Suzie and Brassic, we are doubling our investment in original content by 2024 through Sky Studios. Sky News provides impartial and trustworthy journalism for free, while Sky Arts, the UK’s only dedicated free-to-air arts channel, makes the arts accessible for everyone. Our new TV and movie studio, Sky Studios Elstree, is expected to create over 2,000 new jobs and generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK over the first five years alone.

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