Businessman's gift fulfils Shakespearean ambition

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Karl Watkin is a millionaire businessman determined to be known as a patron of the arts. Yesterday he succeeded, wooing the English Shakespeare Company to Newcastle, where the national touring company will now be based.

For years, the entrepreneur, who had bought the New Tyne Theatre and Opera House, had tried to woo the D'Oyly Carte company from Birmingham to perform Gilbert and Sullivan (one of his passions) in Newcastle. The company refused and their relationship ended in rancour.

But yesterday saw the news that he had persuaded the ESC to move out of London, and to be based in the city where the Royal Shakespeare Company already has an annual season. The ESC will continue to be a touring company, but their tours will be launched from Newcastle and they will undertake education and community work in Newcastle.

For its artistic director, Michael Bogdanov, it will be a return to the city where, in the 1970s, he was associate director of the Tyneside Theatre Company, based at the University Theatre, now the Newcastle Playhouse.

Mr Watkin, a former "north-east businessman of the year" for his running of the Gateshead printing machine company Crabtree, bought the Victorian opera house in 1995 as part of a drive to regenerate the run-down Westgate Road area of the city. Yesterday he said: "This is brilliant news for Newcastle - it will put the city firmly on the arts map.

"This company, with such an outstanding artistic credibility, will help market the region both nationally and internationally while their education programme will make a material difference to arts in the region."

Mr Watkin said he was giving the ESC pounds 100,000 to help fund its operations in Newcastle.

"The greatest thing about the English Shakespeare Company coming is their education programme," he said.

"They put 100,000 children a year through their education programme. We are going to build on that. We are going to take it, as far as I am concerned, up to 1 million children a year. It will make Newcastle a centre for children's theatre."

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