faces to watch in the art world 8. Julia Peyton-Jones

Julia Peyton-Jones of the Serpentine Gallery has won over royalty, got sponsors swooning and raised cash for a revamp. But she still fears a future behind a checkout till
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The Independent Culture
It's a tight-knit family out there at the Serpentine Gallery, that little house on the prairie of Kensington Gardens. Julia Peyton-Jones, doyenne of the team, is complaining that when she comes to be photographed, only her elbow ever gets into frame. She made it into Hello! earlier this month, when the magazine took a six-page elbow opportunity at the Serpentine's annual gala dinner, where the rich and the raunchy, rock stars, egregious PR people, sponsorship account executives and a few well-behaved artists dined in a tent on the lawn with Princess Diana, the gallery's patron. These annual tuck-ins have raised pounds 210,000 towards the gallery's renovation appeal and have come to mark Peyton-Jones's socially active directorial style. Get the folks who live in Kensington Palace on your side, and the sponsors sit up. "Princess Diana," says Peyton-Jones, "is a formidable fund-raiser."

Peyton-Jones studied painting at the Royal College in the mid-1970s, taught briefly in Edinburgh, then began her curatorial career running a gallery attached to an artist's materials supplier in Wapping. All the while, she was trying to make art, but funding her own artistic career gave way to raising cash for the annual Space Open Studios and a move to the Arts Council, where she worked on shows of Dufy and Leonardo da Vinci at the Hayward Gallery.

Arriving at the Serpentine in 1991, she set about improving the Gallery's paltry pounds 3,500 annual exhibitions budget, and winning over the great and the good. Her mettle was tested, in 1992, when the Department of National Heritage "came within a whisker" of terminating the Gallery's licence. The MP Ian Sproat even suggested turning it into a riding school. Nowadays, with over a quarter of a million visitors a year, private views awash with Becks and Absolut Vodka and gala dinners sponsored by Vanity Fair, the Serpentine looks secure.

The Directorship of the Serpentine is a non-renewable, five-year contract which might be eked-out by a further 12 months. Next March, Peyton-Jones's term is up. What's next? She won't say, but toys with the idea of going to film school. If all else fails, she says, there's always the Sainsbury's checkout till. Surely not - with her connections, it would definitely have to be Waitrose.