Media: New Royal Opera chief aims to keep out the riffraff

The new chairman of the Royal Opera House does not want to sit next to someone in smelly shorts and trainers. David Lister, Arts News Editor, meets Covent Garden's outspoken new leader.

Sir Colin Southgate breezed into Covent Garden last night and broke ranks with his predecessor's public hand-wringing about reducing prices and increasing access.

Sir Colin, also chairman of EMI, said: "On the one hand everybody wants us to sell the tickets for nothing; but the same guy pays a fortune to go to Arsenal. We mustn't downgrade the Opera House. I don't want to sit next to somebody with a singlet, smelly shorts and a pair of trainers when I go to the opera. I'm a relaxed guy. I'm not wearing a tie. But there are standards."

Sir Colin, 59, who has turned round the fortunes of the EMI record company, was chosen this week by Culture Secretary Chris Smith to replace Lord Chadlington, who resigned after a withering report by a Commons Select Committee.

The House's problems remain. It emerged last night that the possibility of closing the opera and ballet companies for the rest of the Royal Opera House closure period had been discussed and ruled out. But it has been decided to axe two Verdi operas which were to be performed at the Royal Albert Hall. The House still has a deficit of pounds 5m. Referring to the need to maximise attendance at opera and ballet, Sir Colin said: "It's about bums on seats, guys."

But if he has been chosen for his business acumen, it will quickly hit chief executive Mary Allen and her staff that in style he is unlike anyone they may have encountered in operatic circles: Sir Colin admires the Spice Girls and cites his favourite artist not as Pavarotti but Tina Turner.

Last night he added that what the House needed was "a little bit of love and leadership. It needs a cuddle." But behind the laid-back music-industry approach, he is also formulating a business agenda. He would be reconstituting the board and filling it with skilled people. "I want someone who knows about constructing a pounds 200m building," he said. He went to the opera a dozen times in the past year, he said.

A businessman was a good appointment to the chairmanship, he said. "Because we are better structured in the way we deal with time, the way we deal with people, the way we deal with issues. I'm used to taking creative risks." Privatising the ROH would be a ridiculous idea and sharing facilities with the English National Opera was "silly." He revealed that he had been short-listed for the job of chairman of Channel 4 and added that the ITC had not yet bothered to tell him it had gone to someone else.

Yesterday Sir Colin released a statement saying: "I am delighted and happy to have been asked to take on this challenge. I look forward to working with the executive team through the transition period and to making the new House a wonderful success. For our vibrant opera and ballet companies to continue to perform ... at world-class levels it is essential they get the support and facilities they deserve." But the new chairman in person gives a much livelier performance than his officially worded statements would lead you to believe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project