Tate boss discusses her father’s care home death during lockdown


Tate boss Maria Balshaw has opened up about her father’s death in a care home during the coronavirus lockdown.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that it was a “very upsetting experience” and only eight people went to his funeral despite the fact that he had many friends.

When asked about her father, she told host Lauren Laverne that it is “hard to talk about him at the moment because part of my lockdown has been very sad”.

First female chief of Tate
First female chief of Tate

“My dad died in his care home, which was a very upsetting experience because I realised we mourn collectively,” she said.

“I hadn’t thought about that and dad was a man who liked to go to the pub, went most evenings, and had a wide network of pub friends and we were only eight of us at his funeral.”

Balshaw, who has been director of the Tate galleries since 2017, also discussed her memories of her father from her childhood in Northampton.

She said she found out he was an “excellent swearer” when she accompanied him to the office.

“I honestly thought aged eight or nine that my dad went to the office to get on the phone and shout at people, often swearing, because that was the main thing he seemed to do,” Balshaw said.

Turner Prize 2019
Turner Prize 2019

“His swearing was never rude, but it was just very colourful and he was much-loved by his coworkers, because he would always say it as it was and I hope that at least in my best moments I embody some of dad’s energy.

“Sometimes you have to be bloody-minded to get things done.”

She added that she hopes she also embodies some of her mother’s sense of “gentleness”, adding: “She gave me a great gift of calmness.”

Balshaw also reflected on becoming the first female director of Tate, which oversees galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives in Cornwall.

“It was so fantastic to be the first woman in the sense that many of the women that I knew and many that I didn’t know got in touch to say how important they felt it was as a milestone,” she said.

“There are still very, very few women leading museums anywhere in the world and of the many museums in the UK, I’m the only one leading a national art museum.

“There’s another part of me that says that shouldn’t be so and I look forward to the time when no one remarks on the gender of a director.”

Listen to Balshaw’s episode of Desert Island Discs on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11am.