Times shocker: Grenfell Tower council lost money on opera

Times shocker: Grenfell Tower council lost money on opera


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2017

The headline across pages 6 and 7 of the Times today is one of the most distortive I can remember in a British broadsheet newspaper.

It reads:

Council made a fortune on social housing and lost it on opera.


The implication is that Kensington and Chelsea Council blew its money on champagne and arias while neglecting poor people in tower blocks.

Which is both untrue and outrageous.

Kensington and Chelsea founded the Holland Park Festival in a marquee in 1988 and funded it for quarter of a century. In Orcotber 2015, the festival became an independent charity. It continues to receive a small subsidy from the council, as part of its public duty to promote education and leisure amenities.

According to the Times: ‘Last year the council lost £1.5 million on staffing and operating the opera, its accounts show. In 2014-15, it lost £1 million.’

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, these ‘losses’  are part of its former* public subsidy.

The Times continues: ‘The festival which last night showed a performance of Don Giovanni, and sells picnic hampers for £265, takes place in Holland Park, a green space whose neighbours include some of the country’s richest people, including David Beckham.’

This is disgraceful tabloid demagoguery.


I have never seen Mr Beckham at the opera, or partaken of a £265 hamper, but I have seen lots of people watching opera at Holland Park who cannot afford the prices of any other summer opera. It is a very mixed audience and the council was right to support it with a modest amount of tax funds. UPDATE: *The council’s grant to the opera ended last year.

The Times attack is both uninformed and unfounded. Will we see a retraction?

UPDATE: Opera Holland Park responds here.


  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    I share your outrage, Norman. Not just because OHP is one of the most forward-thinking and frankly egalitarian companies around but this is a distortion and an extremely partial interpretation of funding. One might expect it from the S*n or Daily Mail but how sad that it should emanate from a journal that we’ve all admired and respected for decades. I doubt highly that it is a view shared by their eminent opera critic.

  • Allen says:

    Broadsheets have been coming closer to tabloids for years.

    Just under £9m was spent on the building. It might not have been spent wisely, best to wait and see, but the building was not neglected.

    • Bulldozer says:

      The building was not neglected, err take a look at FOI requests to K & C Council. It seems they had a load of power surges back in 2013 which were never looked into. Someone has put in a load of probing FOIs, it would be interesting to see the full maintenance log and the electrical safety certification. A sparky this afternoon told me, if they had not implemented regular electrical inspections, testing and certification the whole wiring and relays could be fried and fry anything at the udder end. Given that the alarms failed it does look more like an electrical issue rather than gas, but a small gas leak could have contributed to the fireball. Those tower blocks really should be knocked down and replaced with 3-4 storey low rise. If the London ones are dodgy what about ones in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow etc?

  • pooroperaman says:

    Where was Richard Morrison, supposedly the Arts Editor, when this was drafted?

    OHP is only five minutes walk from Kensington Town Hall, so the mob will be easily able to pop down and smash it up when they’ve finished there. Thanks, Times.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Norman I do hope that you are writing/complaining to The Times.

  • John Babb says:

    It’s far easier for the Times to blame spending on opera than attach any blame to the effects of government determined spending cuts to local authority funding over the last 6 years, cuts which have received approval in their own leader columns.

    • pooroperaman says:

      Given that they spent all of £8.6 million on refurbishing this block, I hardly see that government cuts are an issue here.

      As spending involves giving away money that you don’t get back, the headline could just as easily have said that they lost money on Grenfell, just as I lost money on buying The Times this morning.

  • Anna Bacon says:

    Norman I also hope you write to complain. No mention of the fantastic work done by OHP’s Inspire project which has worked extensively with community services, schools, youth groups and charities to bring music to the wider communuty. Approximately 3000 accessible tickets are made available each season.

  • Who Dunnit says:

    Inside Housing have received a response to their FOI request regarding electrical safety testing, see this link. Seems not done after the repair work and things were turned off!


  • Martin says:

    This site has sunk to a new low. Whether or not the article is correct please have a bit of respect for the growing numbers of people that have died and their families. It’s no wonder many professional musicians have a disdain for the audience. What a bunch of callous insensitive pricks.

    • Lunchtime O'Wrong Note says:

      Agreed the ejits here do not care about those who died. Murdoch Press and the DM are doing the usual guff stories. Here is summat interesting to mull over. Those FOI requests to RBKC are mounting by the minute, doubt they will meet the deadline for replies! PE will have good coverage of it and this err moaning site.

      Architect Sam Webb carried out a safety survey of Tower blocks in the UK in the 1990s a report he subsequently sent to the Home Office, indicated 50% of Tower blocks did not meet basic fire safety standards

      Architect Doug Roberts returns to San Francisco for the dedication of the Glass Tower, which he designed for James Duncan. At 138 stories, it is the world’s tallest building. An electrical short starts an undetected fire on the 81st floor. Roberts suspects the electrical engineer, Roger Simmons, also Duncan’s son-in-law, of cutting corners and confronts him, but Simmons stonewalls Doug. Film The Towering Inferno, 1974.

      Just Fancy That


  • Martin says:

    Pooroperaman identify yourself.