HE'S the man whose groundbreaking production of The Railway Children took first York, then London and finally even Toronto by storm.

Last year, he was the driving force behind the staging of perhaps the most spectacular York Mystery Plays in living memory, in Museum Gardens.

Now, Damian Cruden has been granted one of the city’s highest honours – being named York's tourism ambassador at a glitzy ceremony last night.

He follows in the footsteps of fellow thespian Berwick Kaler and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, among others. Both have held the honour in previous years.

Speaking at the annual Visit York Tourism Awards at York Racecourse last night, Visit York chairman Lady Jane Gibson said the honour was in recognition of Mr Cruden’s achievements in his 15 years as artistic director of York Theatre Royal.

“He believes in the power of storytelling and by bringing York and its stories to life, he has helped put York on an international stage,” she said.

Coun Sonja Crisp, York's cabinet member for tourism, said: “Damian's achievements at York Theatre Royal have elevated York's position as a vibrant cultural destination. His imagination and passion for the city shone through in last year’s Mystery Plays, bringing in thousands of visitors from overseas."

Theatre Royal chief executive Liz Wilson said that Mr Cruden was a man of extraordinary energy and visionary ambition.

“At a time when we are daily having to face up to bad news the arts is one of this country’s success stories. It is something that we are exceptionally good at and Damian is ‘an engine of invention’ of which this city should be very proud," she said.

Last night’s awards ceremony saw the cream of the crop of York's tourism businesses vying for a range of accolades.

Middlethorpe Hall was named hotel of the year for the second year running, and its Oak Room restaurant was restaurant of the year, while The Golden Fleece was named best pub. Among other awards, the Mystery Plays won best visitor experience, and the York Cocoa House best café/tearoom.

• For a full list of winners at the tourism awards, see our supplement inside today's Press newspaper.