Alarm over Arts Council award to Tory donor’s son

Alarm over Arts Council award to Tory donor’s son


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2020

We’re hearing cries of ‘foul!’ over a £100,000 Arts Council handout to Nevill Holt Opera in the Midlands.

Nevill Holt was founded by Tory donor and Boris pal David Ross on his estate in Leicestershire.

Ross, 55, is chairman of the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House in London.

Last month, he handed over the running of Nevill Holt Opera, giving the title ‘patron’ to his son, Carl, perhaps to avoid any suspicion of conflict with his own ROH role.

Carl is 17 and still at school. He has just accepted a lavish Arts Council cheque for £85,000.



Something’s not quite kosher here.

See also: Outrage as Arts Council bails out artist agencies


  • Stop stirring the pot says:

    I think you will find that many, if not most, arts organizations will have Trustees and connections to all sorts of political donors. Were they all supposed to recuse themselves from applying for funding? It appears this organization legitimately produces operas . . .

    • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

      Which I have to admit is progress, considering there are now contracts for PPE valued at more than £3billion which the Tories have dished out to their mates without any procurement process, for PPE that will be supplied at vastly inflated prices (if it’s supplied at all, which at this point appears uncertain).

  • Little Miss Angry says:

    If you want ‘Alarm’, try this : St.Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square have just been awarded £659,000, part of which is to “rebuild our much-loved music”, which would be lovely, if they had not just thrown out all the ensembles, choirs and hundreds of freelance musicians who had created that “much-loved music” in the first place, over the past 30 years. It is quite frankly obscene and the Heritage Lottery Fund needs to investigate urgently.

  • Johanna says:

    This is grossly unfair. Regardless of who founded it, they do absolutely excellent work both onstage and off (brilliant education programme benefitting local children and a young singers programme, for example.) Why should they be excluded from applying for a rescue package because the founder is a Tory donor. I don’t like the Tories either but, hey ho, if it pays the bills …

    • Mvarc says:

      The owner of a large estate – seemingly a billionaire or near-billionaire – created an extraordinary institution on his extensive luxury estate. How can he not see that it just looks odd that his institution has asked for and been granted £100,000. However much he has contributed or will still contribute, surely that £100,000 would have found a better home at an institution with significantly less wealthy close friends. He should invite his son to pass the cheque on to a more needy recipient.

      • Stop stirring the pot says:

        So is every arts organization supposed to look over their shoulder and make sure there isn’t a needier one that they should stand aside for?

      • Johanna says:

        Do you know his financial position in detail? I ‘m surprised to find myself defending the actions of a Tory mate of BJ but it is 2020 and weird shit is happening. Having an ‘extensive luxury estate’ doesn’t necessarily mean he has the money to also run an opera company. He hosts it in his grounds. And, before the unforeseen happenings of 2020, it was presumably financially viable.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      In Australia you barely get recognition for anything these days unless you have indigenous heritage. So, please, enough of the hypocrisy from the rest of the world where PC is out of control.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Nothing wrong with Conservatives getting money. At least they’ll put it to good use at NH Opera.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    And some have said that the Tory Party is anti the young. Carl could be running the Arts Council or even the Tory Party by the time he is 21 if he carries on at this rate. Boris and Nic beware. £100 grand today, tomorrow the world.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I’d say that right now the entire western world is “anti the young” – forcing them into lockdown, losing careers and economic security, all to save geriatrics. What admirable generosity and altruism that is!!

      • Miko says:

        The hypocrisy of Tory voting boomers (all sitting on 40 years of inflated property value and stock trading) bleeding their hearts out over the young, the poor, the North, the low paid….when it was your votes that has shafted all the above for the last 10+ years. Staggering.

    • SVM says:

      Is there any evidence of Carl Holt having any special talent, potential, or experience that makes him suitable for the senior management position he has recently obtained? I find it hard to believe that anybody at age 17 would be suitable for such a position, so C. Holt’s appointment has the appearance of pure nepotism (as opposed to a genuine willingness to consider a capable young person for a position of significant responsibility).

  • Alex Walsh says:

    Thank you for highlighting this, Norman.

    What strikes me as odd is that major orchestras, with 200 people on the payroll, were awarded 800k.

    Nevill Holt must have around 5-10 full time employees on salaries, so it’s hard to justify the size of this grant.

    But then, if you’ve been watching Nevill Holt closely you’d know it’s a coterie of hangers on and nepotism.

    Why, of all the UKs many country house operas, is NH the only one to receive funding?

    And Nic Chalmers, their ‘music director’ has shot his legitimacy by giving the Daily Mail that glowing quote about Carl Ross’s musical ‘talent’.

    • christopher storey says:

      Actually, Alex Walsh, at least one other similar organisation, Clonter Farm, got a grant, so NH is not unique. But as noted by me elsewhere, the whole thing is full of anomalies – whilst the Halle and the RLPO get something like £700K, both of which are enormous assets for the public as a whole, a privately owned restaurant in Chester which has live music several evenings a week gets £ 238,000 . Go figure, as they say

      • Alex Walsh says:

        I’d never heard of Clonter Farm till now. I wouldn’t say they’re totally comparable…

        I was really thinking of the two Grange festivals, Garsington, Opera Holland Park, West Green, Iford Opera, etc. None of them seem to have been helped and yet they are run on very similar models.

  • I will be undertaking an analysis of the funding and the full picture will be revealed. Also the funds were supposed to go to organisations of national and international importance. Is Holt Opera as nationally important as Leicester Jazz House which is a crucial component in the UK jazz touring circuit? The answer is no.

  • Miko says:

    Serco, Deloitte: “world beating” test and trace.
    PPE contracts at inflated prices to Tory pals’ companies.
    Cummings’ family, up to their necks in corrupt back handers.

    And then there’s brexit, a bonfire of protections/regulations that will lead to the asset stripping by the very rich for self gain.

    If you voted for this, then own it.
    Brace yourselves: the pigs are on steroids, and their snouts are firmly in the trough at the expense of our childrens’ future.

  • christopher storey says:

    There are other very strange looking grants. Thus a private company owned by 2 people with net assets of £492,000 gets a grant of £97K. A company with net assets of £2K gets a grant of £217,000 . A production company, privately owned, with net assets of £373K gets a grant of £362K. I resent my money, and it is in part my money, being used to fund things which are either hopelessly undercapitalised, or else are commercial organsiations perfectly well capable of raising their own funds