Dame Elizabeth Anionwu: Who is the nurse honoured by Dua Lipa at the Brits?

At this year’s Brit Awards, winners were given two trophies – their main statuette and a secondary award, to honour someone else worthy of recognition.

Dua Lipa, who picked up the prizes for best female solo artist and best album, used her first acceptance speech to pay tribute to Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, an emeritus professor of nursing at the University of West London.

In front of a Brit Awards crowd made up of key workers as well as celebrities, the star was met with rapturous applause as she called on Boris Johnson to give a "fair" pay rise to NHS staff. But who is Dame Elizabeth, the woman Lipa described as her "best British female of the year"?

Dua Lipa’s speech

Taking to the stage to pick up her award following Little Mix’s historic best group win, Lipa started by acknowledging progress for women in the industry.

Referencing her Brits wins in 2018, when she was named best female solo artist for the first time and also picked up the breakthrough artist award, the star said: "Last time I was up here accepting this award in 2018, I said that I wanted to see more women on these stages, and I feel so proud that three years later we’re seeing that happen. It really is such an honour to be a part of this wave of women and music."

After saying her thank yous, the singer – best known for hits including New Rules, Be The One, One Kiss and Don’t Start Now – then revealed who she would be honouring with her shared award.

"I think this is such an incredible initiative to give another part of your award to someone," she said. "And I’ve chosen that my best British female of the year is Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and she has spent her stellar nursing career… "

Lipa was then interrupted by cheers. "Yes, yes, exactly," she said, before continuing: "She has spent her stellar nursing career fighting racial injustice, she has also spent so much time and is a strong, strong advocate for protecting frontline workers.

"She has also said that there’s a massive disparity between gratitude and respect for frontline workers because it’s very good to clap for them, but we need to pay them.

"So I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our frontline."

Who is Dame Elizabeth?

Born in Birmingham in 1947, the young Elizabeth spent time in care growing up and was inspired to become a nurse aged just four years old, after being treated for childhood eczema by a "wonderful nursing nun".

She started work for the NHS as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton at the age of 16, her website biography says.

She dedicated her life to her work as a nurse, health visitor and tutor working with black and minority ethnic communities in London, and in 1979 she co-founded the UK’s first sickle cell and thalassaemia screening and counselling centre.

In 1988 she was awarded a PhD from the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL), and from 1990-1997 she worked at the university’s institute of child health as a lecturer.

In 1997, she was appointed as dean of the school of adult nursing and a professor of nursing at the University of West London, and in 1999 she established and was head of the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice until her retirement in 2007. The university then made her Emeritus Professor of Nursing.

In 2016, she published her memoirs, Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union, and has a new book, Dreams From My Mother, out later this year. In 2017, she was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, and in 2019 she was honoured at the Pride Of Britain Awards.

Dame Elizabeth is also a patron of the Sickle Cell Society, the Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association (UK) and the Sickle & Thalassaemia Association of Nurses, Midwives & Associated Professionals.

How did she respond to Lipa’s dedication?

"I’m in shock!!" Dame Elizabeth wrote on Twitter after seeing Lipa pay tribute on stage at the O2. "Thank you so much @DUALIPA for your nomination and your support for better pay for frontline #NHS staff.

"Congratulations on your own #FemaleSoloArtist #brits2021 award!"

Posting on International Nurses Day the morning after the awards, the University of West London congratulated both Lipa and Dame Elizabeth, writing on Twitter: "Congratulations to @DUALIPA!

"We’re so thrilled that you chose to dedicate your win to UWL Emeritus Professor of Nursing @EAnionwu – whose pioneering work has transformed care for people with sickle cell disease."

Who else did Lipa acknowledge?

The star was the night’s big winner, picking up the coveted best album award for her chart-topper Future Nostalgia, as well as the best female solo artist prize.

In her second speech of the night, Lipa dedicated her award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, known as Jimi, a 20-year-old man who died in April after jumping into the River Thames to save a woman who had fallen in. She also honoured Joaquin Garcia, who also went into the river to help with the rescue.

"I wanted to honour this award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, or Jimi, as he’s known by his friends and family, and Joaquin Garcia," Lipa said. "Jimi and Joaquin heroically attempted to rescue a woman who’d fallen from London Bridge and tragically, Jimi did not survive.

"Jimi and Joaquin knowingly put themselves in danger and they did it without hesitation, even though they were a stranger to each other and the women that they were rescuing. So it’d be really fitting if their actions were recognised with a bravery award and I hope this can happen to give Jimi’s family some comfort.

"This award is for Jimi and Joaquin – Jimi you have touched the hearts of a whole nation and we will never forget you. Thank you so, so much for this incredible evening."

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