Lloyd Webber lowers the curtain over pounds 10m loss

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The Independent Online
Andrew Lloyd Webber's company, the Really Useful Group, is expected to make a really embarrassing loss of as much as pounds 10m this year.

Despite an almost global presence and long-running shows in London such as Cats, Starlight Express and Phantom of the Opera, the newly ennobled composer's recent musicals are draining the 20-year-old company's funds.

Yesterday the multi-millionaire entrepreneur announced that he has taken over direct control of the Really Useful Group for the first time in six years. He said he wanted to get back in the driving seat in order to turn the company into "a real theatre organisation again".

Now that he is chairman of the company, he will adopt a more hands-on approach. Previously, he was kept away from the offices in Covent Garden because the management feared he would destroy their management style.

While he holds 70 per cent of the shares, the other 30 per cent was bought up by the entertainment conglomerate PolyGram in 1991 and, however well he does as chairman, Polygram has the option to buy the group outright in 2003.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said in a statement yesterday: "Everyone at the Really Useful Group is pulling together and I am receiving enormous support from PolyGram. The company has a rock solid base and we expect to be firmly back in the black next year. Already several projects are coming together fast and, above all, we have a sense of purpose and a sense of fun."

He believes the company made a mistake in straying into publishing and interactive video, and has singled out Sunset Boulevard as responsible for much of the financial loss.

"Sunset has lost money massively over all," he has said.

Aspects of Love, the reworked Jeeves musical with Alan Ayckbourn, and his latest production, Whistle Down the Wind, have also failed to prove big hits.

The rumblings of change started at the beginning of the year with the departure of 18 members of staff. Then last month came the departure of the former chairman and chief executive, Patrick McKenna.

However, the recent pounds 3.5m sale of his wine collection was not motivated by the financial crisis, a spokeswoman for RUG insisted. "He sold his wine because he has more than enough to last him at least a lifetime," she said.

Indeed, a report last year said that he was earning around pounds 40m-a-year, putting him among the 25 richest men in Britain.