Londoner’s Diary: Tory donor named new chair of National Gallery

·5-min read
National Portrait Gallery   (PA)
National Portrait Gallery (PA)

Welcome back to the Londoner’s Diary. First up we learn another Conservative donor has been appointed to a high-profile London institution. Later today Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward tells us about the unfortunate encounter he had with a swan while trying to raise funds for his institution and Theresa May tells us about how she discovered her former colleague’s cheeky Nando’s habit. In SW1A David Davis tells us working in virtual Parliament was like holding having a parish council work in a barn.

Wednesday 22 September 2021 10:59 , Robbie Griffiths

Another Conservative donor has been appointed to a high-profile London institution. John Booth, an entrepreneur, is to be the new chair of the National Gallery, replacing former BBC director general Lord Hall.

Booth’s appointment follows a government push to get more sympathetic figures onto boards of cultural institutions. As culture secretary, Oliver Dowden told a think tank earlier this year that “the Left has been quietly making these decisions for years,” accused the Left of “pushing” cultural institutions, and added that the Government was not afraid to wade into such rows. A trustee of the Science Museum Group quit in March, accusing the Government of ignoring the “long-established principle of arm’s-length bodies”, while another trustee’s reappointment to Royal Museums Greenwich was blocked.

Booth donated £207,000 to the Tories four years ago, the Art Newspaper reported. Carphone Warehouse billionaire David Ross, another Tory donor, resigned as chair of the Royal Opera House this year. He also chairs the National Portrait Gallery.

RPO 75 years young

Wednesday 22 September 2021 18:55 , Robbie Smith

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated its 75th anniversary with a stirring concert at the Royal Albert Hall last night. New artistic director Vasily Petrenko was thrilled to have the “music back”, conducting royal wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in an Elgar Concerto.

James Williams, RPO managing director, told The Londoner that while there is some “progress being made” over EU touring problems post-Brexit, with 19 countries offering visa waivers, other operational costs were “beginning to pinch”. Such issues make Petrenko’s choice of ‘Great British music’ in a European context for his first season a pointed attempt to “remind ourself as an island that Europe has informed so much of our cultural life and heritage”.

Meanwhile, the orchestra is moving its headquarters to Brent, partly for outreach reasons, “bringing orchestral music to audiences who otherwise would never have the opportunity to engage”. Does a headline show at Wembley beckon?


Wednesday 22 September 2021 14:30 , Robbie Smith

David Davis has little time for the echoey emptiness of virtual Parliament. “It’s been like having a parish council in a barn,” he tells us. “Where’s the emotion, where’s the fear, where’s the anger?” The former Brexit secretary pointed to the defeat of the Government over Syrian intervention in 2014 when “we knew we moved 20 votes. You couldn’t have done it in a barn”.


Sir Mark Sedwill knows how to keep up appearances. The former top civil servant in the UK — and President of the Special Forces Club — was also at Gavin Barwell’s book launch last night. Did he have a favourite memory of working with the former No 10 chief-of-staff? “Not that I’m going to tell you,” he said to us. Whatever happened, it sounds unprintable. Tantalising.

Final fling for the followers of fashion

Wednesday 22 September 2021 14:00 , Robbie Smith

Jourdan Dunn (Dave Benett)
Jourdan Dunn (Dave Benett)

MISAN HARRIMAN, the new Southbank chair, joined fashion director Giovanna Engelbert at Annabel’s at the British Fashion Council’s Changemakers prize on the last night of London Fashion Week. Singer Ellie Goulding, model Jourdan Dunn and activist Munroe Bergdorf also made the bash. Model Erin O’Connor was also at the dinner and earlier in the evening was at The Roundhouse for the Cos AW21 show.

‘May had an ear for my cheeky Nando’s’

Wednesday 22 September 2021 13:30 , Robbie Smith

Theresa May (Getty Images)
Theresa May (Getty Images)

Theresa May cheered on her former colleague Gavin Barwell at the launch of his book Chief of Staff: Notes From Downing Street last night, but admitted he had his foibles. When May used to ring him on a Friday evening there would always be a distinct background noise, she told The Londoner. “There was only one sentence you could say: ‘Gavin, are you at Nando’s?’” The answer, it seems, was always yes. “That’s a fair cop,” Barwell conceded to us. “One of the pressure releases was a late-night Friday Nando’s. She was very good at telling from the background noise.” Peri-peri perceptive.

Nile strikes the wrong note

Wednesday 22 September 2021 13:00 , Robbie Smith

Nile Rodgers (Nile Rodgers)
Nile Rodgers (Nile Rodgers)

NILE RODGERS tells us there’s been a “seismic shift” in the music industry compared to the Seventies. “I work primarily with women,” the Chic guitarist said at yesterday’s Ivor Novello awards at the Grosvenor Hotel in Mayfair. “When I started out in the business and they walked into studio, they looked at the control desk like it was a 747, now… I work with so many women who are not afraid of the gear.” A valiant, if very unfortunate, attempt at sounding a progressive note.

Swim was nearly a swansong

Wednesday 22 September 2021 11:45 , Robbie Smith

Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward (Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward)
Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward (Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward)

Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward put himself at risk when he joined efforts to keep the Lambeth institution afloat during the pandemic. At a party for the Constance Spry exhibition last night, he told us about training for his 50-mile fundraising swim in Richmond and the unexpected amorous attentions of a swan, perhaps seduced by his white swimming cap. “It was like real-life Leda and the Swan,” he shuddered.

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