Philanthropist sings his newest song

Philanthropist sings his newest song

For the JC July 15 2022

It’s hard to think of an area of the arts world with which Sir Lloyd Dorfman is not intimately connected. The entrepreneur and philanthropist, properly Sir Lloyd Dorfman CVO CBE — the CVO was awarded in June’s Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work in chairing the Prince’s Trust International — has just been appointed as the new chairman of the Royal Opera House.

But a quick glance at Sir Lloyd’s astonishing list of business and charitable commitments reveals someone who has married his non-business passion for the arts to his financial expertise. Besides the ROH — of which more later — he is also a trustee of the Royal Academy Trust and BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Famously, the foreign exchange company which he founded, Travelex, joined forces with the National Theatre to offer a tranche of £10 tickets aimed at attracting young people to the NT audiences. Ultimately one of the NT’s three theatres, the Cottesloe, was re-named the Dorfman Theatre.

And this is besides having been chairman of the Roundhouse, the iconic arts hub in north London, and a long-time trustee of JW3, the London Jewish cultural centre; he remains deputy chair of the Community Security Trust and a trustee of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. He is vice-president of five of the charities with which he has been previously involved: Prince’s Trust International, JW3, St Paul’s School, the Roundhouse and West London Synagogue. So, unusually, he straddles both worlds, the Jewish and the wider community.

You might think, with all these commitments, that he would scale back a little; and yet he has just concluded a major project at Westminster Abbey, helping to build a £25 million tower at the church to take visitors up to the galleries of the Abbey. No sooner was the Abbey project concluded than Dorfman became involved in another scheme at St Paul’s Cathedral, leading him to joke that he is the “Jewish desk for abbeys and cathedrals”.

It seems almost churlish to concentrate on just one aspect of Dorfman’s life, his latest appointment as chairman of the Royal Opera House, having been a trustee since 2015. But the self-described “plate-spinner” began his association with the ROH as a fan; he and his wife, Sarah, who was a governor of the Royal Ballet School for nine years, the last two of which she served as deputy chair, are ardent opera-goers. “We are regular visitors and we care about it a lot”.

Together with the Royal Ballet and the ROH orchestra, this is a formidable corner of the arts world for Dorfman to head. It is, he says, the largest employer of creatives in Britain, after the BBC. He is typically ebullient about the company’s future, although he acknowledges some serious challenges facing it.

Post-pandemic, he says, things are gradually getting back to normal and the houses are nearly full. But when Dorfman says that “just to break even” the company needs to fill “95 per cent of 2,400 seats, every night”, you get some sense of the scale of what needs to be done.

Dorfman and fellow members of the ROH board have been carefully ensuring its financial future, not least by selling a David Hockney portrait of the ROH’s one-time general manager, Sir David Webster, for £11.5 million. But there are some huge hurdles to get over in the future; faced with “an ageing infrastructure” in the Covent Garden building, Dorfman estimates that the company will need to spend around £120 million in the next decade, making the Opera House fit for purpose in its 21st century incarnation.

Away from the arts world, Dorfman, who says he has been on the boards of around 13 different charities in the last 30 years, is thoroughly plugged in to the Jewish community, via his deputy chairmanship of the Community Secuurity Trust (CST) and his position as a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation. “It’s important for philanthropists to give whatever they can to help these organisations, but if you are able to give time, I think that’s also important — and I’m in a position to do that.”

As for CST, Dorfman says, “those problems never go away. We know there has been an increase in hate crimes, but in fact one of the more interesting programmes in the last few years has been CST’s SAFE programme, which stands for Security Advice for Everyone. Whenever there has been an attack anywhere in the world — on mosques, for example — the outcry here has been such that the police have been telling minority faiths to contact CST. We evolved this programme, which over the last couple of years has held 260 conferences and webinars, attended by something like 5,500 to 6,000 people, representing just over 2,000 individual places of worship. This is about us showing them our expertise, and how to look after their places of worship”.

In fact, says Dorfman, a Ukrainian church just round the corner from his central London offices near Selfridges, has become the community hub for Ukrainian refugees in Britain. CST, he says, spent time advising the church authorities on how to make the building properly secure.

Dorfman is currently involved “in a small group of people considering the increase in hate crime, across different faiths. As we look at the issue, and ask what we can do to make a difference, we have narrowed it down to four pillars: secure — that’s what CST does; suppress — in the sense of social media, where it gives oxygen to many people, not just the big, well-known ones, but the not so well-known ones, where those who would wish harm to others are active; educate — we need to find ways for kids to learn, to celebrate people’s differences; and embrace — to spend time in other people’s communities. The more that we can spend time with each other, rather than be blinkered, silo-like, the better”.

Which brings us neatly to his latest project at St Paul’s Cathedral, the remarkable “Remember Me” initiative, aimed at commemorating those who died of Covid during the pandemic. It’s a two-part memorial — an online venture (rememberme2020.uk) in which so far 11,500 names have been posted, some with photographs, others represented by candles — and a physical memorial which is due to be unveiled in the next few weeks at the reconstructed portico at the North Transept Door of the cathedral.

St Paul’s made contact with Dorfman because of his work with Westminster Abbey. He took part in a Zoom call with Nicky Wynne, the cathedral’s head of development, in April 2020, when she told him of the Covid project she had been handed by the Bishop of London and the Dean of St Paul’s. “I didn’t know this at the time,” says Dorfman, “but apparently St Paul’s has the historic role to be the nation’s remembrancer for great events or tragedies”. Wynne had been tasked with creating — quickly — an on-line memorial for those who had died in the pandemic.

Immediately, Dorfman offered help, both financial and practical. He thought it was a fantastic idea, not least because it was to apply to people of all faiths and none. “I ended up almost in a design role for the site”.

The physical memorial has a lovely story: in 1941 St Paul’s took a direct hit from a Nazi bomb, and the North Transept Door, portico and ceiling, were damaged. The door and ceiling were replaced, but the portico was not; but a design for it had already been created by the wonderfully-titled Surveyor of the Fabric, the formal name for the consultant architect of the cathedral. Oliver Caroe, the current Surveyor, designed the portico, and Dorfman enjoys the link that the first Surveyor of the Fabric, in 1675, was the original architect of St Paul’s, Christopher Wren.

At Dorfman’s suggestion, this will now be the Remember Me portico. Earlier this year he was asked to speak at a memorial concert in St Paul’s to tell a 2,000 strong audience, including NHS workers and bereaved families, how he had become involved in the project.

The usually calm Dorfman took four days to write his five-minute speech, delivered from the cathedral’s pulpit. He was keen, he says, to convey his pride as a British Jew. “To the bereaved families, I said I’d like to wish you the traditional Jewish condolence message, to wish you long life”. The following day he received an emotional text from a Jewish member of the audience, who said that she had “fallen apart” on hearing him say this. She had lost her father to Covid and had been unable to have a proper funeral or shiva. Dorfman’s message of inclusivity had greatly moved her, she said.

“I often say, particularly when I’m talking to a Jewish charitable audience, that while of course it’s important to look after our own community, and we do, it’s also important that we do —and are seen to do — our bit for the wider community, outside the Jewish community. Not that we need to prove anything. But it shouldn’t be [the case] that all the Jews do is look after themselves.”

He points to the prominence of Jewish donors to the arts — from the National Theatre to indeed, the Royal Opera House — and concludes that “we have a fine and noble tradition of not just looking after ourselves, and of being outstanding citizens to a country that was very welcoming to us, in a critical time in our community’s history.”

  • 17 July, 2022