Judi Dench - soon to star in new play Peter and Alice in the West End - has been made an honorary fellow of her alma mater the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

During a ceremony held last week (18 February 2013), Dench was greeted with a standing ovation by staff and students as she accepted the honour from Peter and Alice director Michael Grandage.

Grandage paid hearty tribute to the Oscar-winning actress: "The way Judi builds a character and adds layers to the process is extraordinary", he said. "We are here to honour her, to show our respect, admiration and thanks."

Judi Dench
Judi Dench with current Central students

Following the presentation, Dench, who graduated from Central in 1957 with a first class degree in Acting and four acting prizes, answered questions in conversation with Central's head of acting, Geoff Colman.

Reflecting on her time at the school, where her contemporaries included Vanessa Redgrave, she recalled: "I had a gloriously happy three years at Central. My brother attended Central and it was his excitement that inspired me to want to come to here. The training I received was absolutely phenomenal, I loved it all."

Judi Dench
Judi Dench in conversation

By way of advice to the students she said: "Don’t give up. You will have many hard days and many good days. See as much as you can to create reference in your own mind to refer to. You make the character as real as you can – that’s what our job is. If you have an audition at a theatre, go and see what is on there as you get a measure of what is required.

And she confessed that, despite her experience, nerves still strike. "I get more nervous now than I ever have – yet nerves create an incredible surge of energy, which is integral to use."

Peter and Alice, which stars Dench and Ben Whishaw as the real-life people behind children's book heroes Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, opens at the Noel Coward Theatre next month.