He spoke of his career as ‘a wonderfully exciting journey’ and remembers his time at King’s Ely fondly commenting, “I can’t emphasise enough the profound effect this school has had on me”, going on to say, “The school taught me the real meaning of musical discipline, for which I am eternally grateful.”
In a wealth of amusing anecdotes, Bowman talked about how he used his voice as a rare instrument. He also described his association with Benjamin Britten, who offered him his first part – as Oberon in Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Britten went on to write parts for him in Death in Venice and The Journey of the Magi, all of which have contributed to his highly successful career.
Over the years, Bowman has appeared at almost every major opera house, including La Scala Milan, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, Vienna, Strasbourg, and San Francisco. He has also appeared at the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Bowman has made nearly two hundred recordings with major record labels. Much of this he recounted to a fascinated audience, speaking modestly and with much humour of his unique achievements.
In June 1997, Bowman was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, and in the November of the following year received an Honorary Fellowship at New College, Oxford.
The Principal, Sue Freestone, commented, “During my time as a musician, James Bowman was something of a legend. When I came to King’s Ely and discovered he was a former pupil of the school I was delighted. When we decided to create an annual lecture around themes of the creative and liberal arts, the choice of who we should honour by naming the series for him, James was the obvious choice.”
The James Bowman Lecture has been established to promote the liberal and creative arts at King’s Ely and is generously supported by the Old Eleans’ Club.