Mrs Holmes a Court was cast into the predominantly male world of business after her husband died of a heart attack in 1990, leaving her in charge of his business empire ranging from Australian cattle stations to London's biggest chain of theatres. She has restructured his Heytesbury Holdings group and her custodianship of Stoll Moss Theatres, owner of 10 London theatres including the Palladium, has earned her the reputation as the "Queen of Shaftesbury Avenue".
The judges praised her power, charisma, dynamism and tenacity, which beat off strong competition from four other finalists. Her rivals included Dr Mary-Lorraine Hughes, an academic turned businesswoman who is now chief executive of the Portmeirion Potteries group and Rosalyn Wilton, the most senior woman at Reuters, the giant news agency to financial information group.
Mrs Holmes a Court received her award at London's Claridges hotel yesterday from Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers. As well as the title, she and her fellow finalists will visit Reims to be enrolled as a Friend of the Widow, Nicole Ponsardin, later Madame Clicquot, in whose name the award is made.
Mrs Holmes a Court's life has paralleled that of Madame Clicquot, who, after her husband died in 1805, inherited a champagne business. Ruper Clevely, managing director of Veuve Clicquot in the UK, said there were many similarities. "One of the things Janet Holmes a Court certainly has shown is tenacity."