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 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 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."