My Biggest Mistake: Evan Steadman

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The Independent Online
The man behind 'Maxwell: The Muscial Review', which was to open next week in the West End until a High Court judge pulled the plug, sold his communications group to Robert Maxwell for pounds 16m in 1989, getting both money and inspiration.

MY BIGGEST mistake was in allowing my emotions to rule my pocket.

A few months before Robert Maxwell's death, I was sitting in the midst of the usual chaos he generated when the thought occurred that what surrounded me was a comic opera. Gilbert & Sullivan songs tend to stick in the brain, and suddenly I found myself singing: 'He is the very model of a modern megalomaniac' - instead of 'a modern major general'.

Before I knew it I had rewritten the whole lyric. I started keeping notes of what was going on all around me, sketched out the first draft for a musical and showed it to some friends in the theatre who thought we should make something of it. One creative team followed after another until we finally arrived at the point where we had the right mix between lampoonery and deadly seriousness.

Both the script and the lyrics were rewritten, and I was made redundant, except for my one compelling contribution - the ability to hold a pen on top of a piece of paper and write cheques.

Paradoxically, I could afford to finance the musical myself because Maxwell had very kindly paid three times more for my companies than they were actually worth.

He also bought my shares in the musical Me and My Gal without realising it had already been running for seven years. The price he paid for those alone (at 10 times their value) was enough to finance most of the musical.

But dealing with contemporary events before the dust has settled is obviously harder than writing a play about anonymous people in undefined times. When I caught the creative bug, I knew nothing of the events that were to unfurl - such as those resulting in the forthcoming trials of Kevin and Ian Maxwell.

When I heard that an application was being made to a High Court judge to stop the Maxwell musical, my lawyers and I resolved to fight it. Unfortunately we lost.

However, on many other occasions I have won, so I mustn't complain when I lose . . . albeit spectacularly.

So far the project has cost me pounds 1.1m, but if I couldn't stand the heat I wouldn't have gone into the kitchen.

I didn't ever reckon that ultimately I would make a lot of money out of the show, but my commitment to putting on the best possible musical outweighed all the monetary constraints.

My only interest was to complete what I had started. Anyway, I never was a good businessman, just a lucky one. Maxwell gave me all that money: all that's happened is he has just come along and taken some of it back again.

In view of what has happened, I suppose you could say that the worst mistake of all is to even consider rescheduling the show after the trials of the Maxwell brothers are over - because what that actually means is throwing even more good money at it.

However, I am continuing with this ludicrous plan to put the show on at a later date, just because it's there. It is ruinous and stupid, but I shall almost certainly do it.

I have learned never to allow emotion to rule my pocket - and I have discarded the lesson. I have learned never to allow my reach to exceed my grasp, and I have paid no attention to it. I have learned not to become a player in contemporary mores, and I'll do it all over again.

(Photograph omitted)