Juliet Stevenson ‘interested’ in Garrick Club membership after vote admits women

Actress Juliet Stevenson said she would be “interested” in becoming a member of the Garrick Club after the organisation voted to admit women for the first time.

The central London private members’ club has been strictly male-only since it was founded in 1831.

But a vote to allow female members passed with 59.98% of votes in favour at the end of a private meeting, The Guardian reported.

The newspaper said actor Stephen Fry and journalist James Naughtie were among those who gave speeches arguing for the admission of women.

Ms Stevenson told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “The Garrick has for hundreds of years been a club largely dedicated to the theatre community and then the arts community.

“Any club that is dedicated to that community must by definition be open to all.”

The actress, known for her theatre work and role in the 1991 film Truly, Madly, Deeply, said: “I’m not so much interested in wining and dining, but I’m really interested in exchanges of ideas and challenging each other.

Dame Gillian Lynne DVD Launch
The Garrick Club has been strictly male-only since it was founded in 1831 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“If it’s a place where that can take place, I would be interested in it for sure.”

According to The Guardian, Ms Stevenson is among a list of seven women that pro-women members plan to nominate for inclusion.

Other women on the list include the classicist Dame Mary Beard, former home secretary Amber Rudd, Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, new Labour peer Baroness Hazarika, Coventry University chancellor Margaret Casely-Hayford and former appeal court judge Dame Elizabeth Gloster.

Ms Casely-Hayford said she was “delighted” about the vote and was now preparing her membership application.

The retired lawyer, who completed her term as chair of Shakespeare’s Globe last month, told the PA news agency: “I was really delighted because I think it’s long overdue. I’m pleased the Garrick Club has entered the 21st century.

“I am now preparing my candidacy and I hope that it’s approved in due course.”

Ms Casely-Hayford added: “I’ve found it so uncomfortable that we’ve had members of the judiciary, senior members of the legal profession, senior members of the administration, celebrity artists, all able to congregate and socialise provided they were only of a particular gender.

“It just tells us so much about how women have been locked out of opportunity for preferment.

“It’s just really weird, it’s really odd, it’s really anachronistic and I’m very pleased that almost 60% have voted in favour of change.”

Former culture minister Lord Vaizey said the Garrick Club was not “a place full of men plotting to run the country”, adding that he supported women being admitted as members.

Lord Vaizey, a former Garrick Club member, told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “I don’t think the Garrick is a secret cabal of men that is quietly running a country that has now been broken up.

Dame Mary Beard
Dame Mary Beard is among a list of seven women that pro-women members plan to nominate for inclusion, according to The Guardian (Caterina Turroni/Lion TV/PA)

“I think it’s just a convivial place where people go and have lunch and dinner, and that’s as valid for women as it is for men.”

Lord Vaizey, MP for Wantage from 2005 to 2019, added: “When I was a member of the Garrick, it really was quite backward – women couldn’t even walk up the front stairs, they couldn’t dine in the main dining room. All of that has changed a long time ago, thankfully.

“But I didn’t particularly feel that the Garrick was a place full of men plotting to run the country.

“I fully support the idea that women should be members of the Garrick as well as men, but as I say, I don’t think it’s constructed in a way to keep women away from power.”

The private members’ club has faced scrutiny over its diversity in recent weeks after The Guardian said it had published the membership list, which it claimed included the King, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Sir Richard Moore, the head of MI6.

In March, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – the head of the civil service – quit the club just a day after being questioned by MPs about his involvement in the institution.

Mr Case had previously suggested it would be “easier” to change the all-male organisation “from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside”.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit the club in March after being questioned by MPs about his involvement in the institution (Aaron Chown/PA)

In April, a High Court judge was removed from overseeing a case involving an alleged rape victim due to his membership of the Garrick Club.

Sir Jonathan Cohen was due to hear a family court case involving a dispute between a mother and father over their son’s care, with the woman accusing the man of domestic abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.

She applied for Sir Jonathan to step back from her case, claiming she would feel “prejudiced” due to his membership.

A different High Court judge decided that Sir Jonathan should not hear the case due to his club membership, adding that the father was also a “regular visitor”.

The court heard that “at no stage” have the mother’s allegations against the father been determined.

The Guardian has reported that several High Court judges and dozens of barristers are members of the Garrick Club.