X FACTOR champ Joe McElderry has become the latest star to be honoured by bosses at a South Tyneside theatre.
The singer was inducted into the Customs House Academy earlier today.
The 23-year-old, of Westoe, South Shields, kicked off his Evolution tour in his home town at the Customs House last night.
He played another two sold-out gigs at the Mill Dam venue today, donating all proceeds from the matinee show to the Customs House Trust, the organisation that runs the theatre.
Joe, also victorious on the reality TV shows Popstar To Operastar and The Jump, was surprised on stage at his matinee performance by the venue’s executive director, Ray Spencer.
Ray thanked Joe for his support before presenting him with an award, a miniature model of the theatre made from coal, and declaring him an honorary fellow of the venue’s academy.
The academy was set up to honour the borough’s most talented residents and performers.
Joe took to Twitter to say: “Thank you for being a great audience for the first night of tour! I had so much fun!”
Joe recently spoke of his love for the venue where he first sang at the age of 16.
He had been singing for just 18 months, but the appearance saw him named as the Gazette’s young performer of 2008, the year before he claimed victory on the X Factor.
Joe also had his first job in the theatre’s kitchen as a dish-washer.
He said: “The Customs House has been a huge part of my life, both work-wise and personally.
“I always loved going to see the shows and pantomimes there as a child and working there and performing there.
“I have such fond memories, and I think it is a massive part of the community, and I always love going back there.”
Joe follows in the footsteps of South Tyneside comedians Chris Ramsey, Jason Cook and Sarah Millican, all inducted into the academy last Sunday after they headed up two gigs to raise £25,000 for the closure-threatened venue.
Ray said: “It’s lovely to see a man who works so hard finding time to support the Customs House.
“It’s lovely to know that whatever Joe’s success, he keeps a little bit of room in his heart for his home town as we all keep a little piece of our hearts for him.”