Culture shock

billionaires quit leading roles in the arts

As two of the founders of Carphone Warehouse, David Ross and Sir Charles Dunstone have a lot in common.



David Ross, David Cameron posing for a picture: David and Shelley Ross with David and Samantha Cameron at the Tories' summer party in 2006 - Getty


©Getty
David and Shelley Ross with David and Samantha Cameron at the Tories Summer Party in 2006 – Getty

They both went to the same public school, forged stellar careers becoming billionaires, donated to the Conservative Party and are generous patrons of the arts.

But, over the weekend, it emerged that the pair were quitting roles at the helm of two world-renowned British institutions – the Royal Opera House and the Royal Museums Greenwich – amid claims the government is waging a “war cultural”.

However, the reasons for their departures appear to be very different.

Sir Charles, 56, quit as chairman of the Royal Museums in Greenwich after clashing with Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, over the granting of a second term to a trustee and academic whose work had supported the “decolonization” of the program.

It emerged he resigned in February after Mr Dowden refused to reverse his decision not to reappoint to the museum board Aminul Hoque, a lecturer in educational studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, whose the work advocates “decolonizing” the curriculum.

The academic and writer told the Financial Times he remained ‘shocked, disappointed and baffled’ by Mr Dowden’s decision. Sir Charles declined to comment.



Charles Dunstone and wife posing for a photo: Sir Charles and Celia Dunstone.  Sir Charles quit as chairman of the Royal Museums in Greenwich after clashing with the Culture Secretary


© Provided by The Telegraph
Sir Charles and Celia Dunstone. Sir Charles quit as chairman of the Royal Museums in Greenwich after clashing with the Culture Secretary

The move comes at a time when the government is hitting back at criticism of British history and leading cultural institutions.

Under Mr Dowden, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport vetoed numerous reappointments and placed friends in high places.

Last week the minister appointed Sir Robbie Gibb, the former Downing Street communications director, to the BBC’s board. Jacob Rees-Mogg also joined the board of trustees of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

It is on this art gallery in St Martin’s Place, central London, that Mr Ross, 55, is now expected to focus his attention.

He is understood to be leaving the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, pictured below, after just nine months as Chairman, as he plans to renew a second term as Chairman of the National Portrait Gallery, apparently offered by Mr. Dowden.



Photos showing live rehearsals from Covent Garden @ Royal Opera House - Tristram Kenton


© Provided by The Telegraph
Photos showing live rehearsals from Covent Garden @ Royal Opera House – Tristram Kenton

A source told Sky News he was asked to stay at the gallery because of the ‘contested history’ of the gallery’s works, a reference possibly to how some paintings celebrated the colonial past of Great Britain. -Brittany.

His departure is all the more unusual as he personally stepped in to save the Opera House from financial ruin during the pandemic by buying a David Hockney painting from the institution’s former boss, Sir David Webster, for nearly £13million.

The portrait was quickly returned on loan to the Arts Room where it occupies pride of place.

Sir Simon Robey, the opera’s former chairman and its current honorary vice-chairman, is expected to take over as interim chairman.



Princess Beatrice of York wearing a costume and a wife posing for a photo: Princess Beatrice of York and David Ross at the opening of the Charles Read Academy in Lincolnshire in 2014 - Shutterstock


© Provided by The Telegraph
Princess Beatrice of York and David Ross at the opening of the Charles Read Academy in Lincolnshire in 2014 – Shutterstock

Mr. Ross certainly has close ties to senior Tories. It emerged he had ‘facilitated the accommodation’ of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds in Mustique, in the Caribbean, in 2019.

But it remains to be seen whether George Osborne, the former Tory Chancellor, who Mr Ross is said to have appointed as chairman of the Royal Opera House, will be the first choice to take over.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘We have no role in the nomination processes for positions on the Royal Opera House board.

“All public appointments are considered in accordance with the government’s code for public appointments.

“There is no automatic presumption of reappointment, and indeed, in the vast majority of cases, new talent is added with new appointments.”

If it’s any consolation for Mr Ross, the Hockney painting he bought for the opera is due to be transferred to the National Portrait Gallery in 2023.

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