My Biggest Mistake

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MY BIGGEST mistake was taking a huge risk based on the assumption that a political situation elsewhere would remain stable.

In 1977 I was invited to Moscow by Gosconcert, the state agency responsible for cultural entertainment. I had arranged performances in the UK by a Ukrainian ensemble, and the Soviets were keen to do more.

It was the first of many visits to Moscow, and in 1979 I negotiated a 10-week tour of Britain by the Red Army Ensemble which was to culminate in a week-long booking at the Royal Albert Hall.

I checked with the Foreign Office before reserving any venues, and the general feeling was that it would be safe to go ahead, because the Soviets wouldn't do anything to jeopardise the Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow the following year.

Theatres and concert halls were falling over themselves to book dates. I made all the usual arrangements, put publicity material together, booked hotels for the 150 musicians, and so on. And, of course, I took out insurance to cover any unforeseen circumstances.

Then, shortly before Christmas, Soviet forces rolled into Afghanistan. By the New Year there had been wide media coverage, and one or two venues run by local authorities had started to make noises.

The tour was due to start in April. I kept the insurance company advised of developments, as by this stage a lot of the venues had indicated it was unnacceptable to have performances by the Red Army.

In my naivety I assumed I was covered, but I had not taken the war clause into account. I was told the insurance company could possibly wash its hands of it.

By now I had a lot of financial commitments. If the tour had been called off leaving me holding the baby, I would have gone under for about pounds 150,000.

Eventually I was summoned to the Foreign Office to meet the minister of state, now Sir Richard Luce, who said the Government was opposed to what was happening in Afghanistan and would like to see the tour cancelled.

The decision was left up to me, which I felt was grossly unfair. I was caught in the middle.

I explained that I couldn't be the one to cancel, because it would prejudice my insurance policy, but it was all a bit formidable, because he was surrounded by half a dozen advisers and I had to bat against the seven of them.

However, he said the Government would consider the matter in the light of my comments, and I came away feeling reasonably happy that I had put up a good case. I felt quite chuffed that the Government would consider my viewpoint at all, actually.

Finally a telex rattled through from Moscow saying they were cancelling the tour because they wished to avoid involving their artists in possible confrontations.

In the event, the insurance company offered to pay about two-thirds of the claim. I considered it for about five seconds and accepted, on the basis that a bird in the hand was worth any number elsewhere. It left me with a sizeable loss, but I was grateful it wasn't any more.

It was a very painful lesson. I should never have assumed the political situation would remain stable just because of the Olympics. And I should not have relied on the judgement of politicians.

The experience certainly made me more cautious, and I have steered clear of anything involving politics ever since.

Raymond Gubbay, 46, is a promoter who is responsible for concert performances by such artists as Jose Carreras, Kiri Te Kanawa and Yehudi Menuhin. Articled to his chartered accountant father at 16, he lasted eight months. Then an introduction to Victor Hochhauser led to a job with the impresario. He struck out on his own in 1966; today his company has a pounds 3m turnover. He recently had his thousandth event at the Barbican. Other successes include the Hooked on Classics concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and the Classical Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall.

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