Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the former stage-hand who went on to develop some of the most successful shows in the world, has been rewarded for his contribution to tourism.
The 59-year-old impresario was awarded the top prize in a major tourism award ceremony last night in recognition of his devotion to making London's West End theatres a top draw for visitors to Britain.
As the owner of several theatres in London, Sir Cameron, who is responsible for such major international hits as Cats, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, was presented with VisitBritain's outstanding contribution to tourism award, part of the Enjoy England Awards for Excellence.
"Theatre in London has a gigantic role to play in attracting visitors," said Sir Cameron, who is in New York where he is preparing for the opening of Mary Poppins on Broadway in November. "London and Broadway are unique in the world and are alive with creative synergy. London is on an upward spiral; great shows, great shopping and great attractions."
Hugh Taylor, England Marketing Advisory Board chairman, said Sir Cameron had played a vital role in bringing tourists back to the capital after the terrorist attacks of last summer. He said: "Theatreland took a bad knock after the 7 July bombings, but thanks to the resilience of London theatres and the unparalleled range of top quality productions that London has to offer, visitors quickly returned. In fact, a record 12.1 million visitors saw plays, musicals, comedy, opera and dance in London last year, making a considerable contribution to English tourism. The quality of that output certainly puts England on the world stage."
The son of a Scottish father and a French-Maltese mother, the London-born producer, who was knighted for services to the British theatre in 1996, first hit the big time in 1981 as the producer of Cats, which holds the record for longest-running musical both on the West End in London, and, until recently, on Broadway.
Sir Cameron, who is estimated to be worth £400m, has homes in London and New York, a 13,000-acre estate in the Scottish Highlands, a farm in Somerset, a vineyard in Provence and seven West End theatres.
In the past few years he has invested heavily in his theatrical properties, including the Prince Edward Theatre , Prince of Wales Theatre , Strand Theatre (now renamed the Novello), Queen's Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Wyndham's Theatre and the Albery Theatre.
Once a critic of the tatty state of West End theatres, along with London's traffic congestion, poor public transport and the threat of street crime which he claimed put off many visitors, he was willing to put his money where his mouth was and invested more than £35m to restore his chain of London theatres to their former glory.
"As a private individual I'm doing what I can to make it better," he said a couple of years ago when he announced his plans to try to revamp theatreland. In the end, what puts bums on seats is a hit. But the West End itself needs to be a hit, and a great place to go for a show, a beer, a party or a club."
In taking the lead by investing his money at a time when the Government has been asked by the Theatres Trust for £250m of public funding to make London's stock of Victorian and Edwardian theatres fit for 21st-century audiences, Sir Cameron said he wanted to ensure the buildings were lovingly refurbished rather than risk them falling into such disrepair that the only option left would be demolition.
"I've made a great deal of money out of the West End and, quite frankly, I can't take it with me. I decided this was what I wanted to do. I want to leave them in a state where I can put my hand on my heart and say they will last for another 100 years," he said.
Previous winners of the tourism award include The Queen, the Harry Potter films, the presenter Judith Chalmers and in 2005, the Duchess of Northumberland in recognition of her work in transforming the gardens at Alnwick Castle.
The London Eye won the best tourism experience award, and the business tourism award was won by Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
The ultimate showman
Since opening in London in 1981 it has played in 20 countries and in 250 cities. Within 30 months of the opening there were productions in New York, Tokyo, Budapest and Vienna, and a touring one in the US.
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's epic musical opened at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1989. It has been performed in 18 countries in nine languages, been seen by 31 million and grossed £950m.
My Fair Lady
First performed at the Lyttelton Theatre in March 2000, it then transferred to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where it ran for two years. It won a total of five Laurence Olivier Awards.
The longest-running musical in the world has been seen by more than 53 million people in 38 countries since its first London performance in October 1985. It also notched up 6,680 performances on Broadway.
Phantom Of The Opera
The musical, which opened at Her Majesty's Theatre on 9 October 1986 with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the leading roles, has been seen by 52 million people and grossed £900m worldwide.Reuse content