Garrick Club’s men-only members list reveals roll-call of British establishment

<span>The Garrick Club’s members include many recognisable and powerful men.</span><span>Composite: Jonathan Brady/PA/SIPA/AP/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock/Reuters/Guardian Design</span>
The Garrick Club’s members include many recognisable and powerful men.Composite: Jonathan Brady/PA/SIPA/AP/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock/Reuters/Guardian Design

The full membership list of the men-only Garrick Club reveals its central position as a bulwark of the British establishment, featuring scores of leading lawyers, heads of publicly funded arts institutions, the chief of MI6, the head of the civil service, and King Charles.

Members also include the deputy prime minister, the secretary of state for levelling up, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House as well as Richard Moore, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, and Simon Case, who as cabinet secretary is the prime minister’s most senior policy adviser and the leader of nearly half a million civil servants.

Made public for the first time by the Guardian, the club’s closely guarded membership book lists a supreme court judge, five court of appeal judges, eight high court judges, about 150 KCs, dozens of members of the House of Lords and 10 MPs, plus heads of influential thinktanks, law firms, private equity companies, academics, prominent actors, rock stars and senior journalists.

Details of how many senior British establishment figures are members of a club that has repeatedly blocked moves to admit women prompted anger from campaigners for increased diversity in the arts, business, politics and the law.

Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who drafted the Equality Act 2010, said politicians and senior civil servants should not be members of clubs that prohibit women from becoming members.

“Equality for women is a recognised public policy objective and all those in public life should be committed to that objective. These clubs prop up structures that restrict women’s access to power,” she said.

Caroline Nokes, a Conservative MP and chair of the women and equalities committee, said: “It’s wrong in today’s society to have places that are still so pivotal to the establishment that exclude 51% of the population.”

The club membership of about 1,500 is overwhelmingly white and predominantly elderly. Some refer to the institution as a retirement home that serves fine wine, but the full list reveals a high number of people currently in influential roles – from Whitehall leaders to partners at “magic circle” law firms and heads of consultancies.

The arts

The actors Brian Cox and his Succession co-star Matthew Macfadyen are members of the club, which was founded in 1831 as a meeting place for actors and gentlemen and named in honour of the 18th-century actor David Garrick. So are Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Suchet and Damian Lewis.

The chair of the Royal Ballet school, Christopher Rodrigues, the artistic director of Wigmore Hall, John Gilhooly, and the chair of the English National Opera, Harry Brünjes, are also members, alongside Alex Beard, the chief executive of the Royal Opera House.

Jude Kelly, a theatre director and founder of the Women of the World Foundation, said she was so angry about the club’s refusal to admit women that she had considered staging a sit-down protest outside the club’s 1864 grey stone building in Covent Garden.

Senior figures in the arts should resign their membership, she added. “It behoves people who are leaders in the arts to not frequent it any longer. I don’t understand why anybody would think that it’s still OK to join a men-only members’ club,” she said.

“It sends a very peculiar message if you head a major arts organisation, but you are a member of a club that doesn’t accept women.”

She said male colleagues in the arts had in the past invited her as a guest to have lunch at the club, but she no longer accepted such invitations. “It’s humiliating,” she said.

The Garrick brings together the troubled founder of Odey Asset Management, Crispin Odey, the football manager Roy Hodgson, Nigel Newton, the chief executive and founder of the Harry Potter publishers Bloomsbury, the fashion designer Paul Smith, the Dire Straits vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler, the literary agent Peter Straus, the hotel magnate Rocco Forte, the editor-in-chief of Daily Mail and General Trust, Paul Dacre, and the BBC’s world affairs correspondent John Simpson.

The chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (who directed the orchestra at the king’s coronation), Antonio Pappano, is a member, as is the gynaecologist who delivered Prince George, Marcus Setchell.


Most of the serving politicians who are members are Conservatives, including the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, his levelling up department colleague Simon Hoare, the former minister of state for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former justice secretary Robert Buckland (now chair of the Northern Ireland select committee) and Daniel Hannan, a member of the House of Lords and adviser to the Board of Trade. Kwasi Kwarteng was elected a member in 2022, days before being appointed chancellor.

Some politicians and judges no longer list their membership on the publicly available Who’s Who website.

Also members are Robert Chote, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, who was chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility from 2010 until 2020, David Willetts, the president of the Resolution Foundation thinktank (which focuses on issues of inequality) and Dean Godson, the director of the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, along with the former Post Office chair Tim Parker and the chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, Edward Faulks.

Some of these members may have voted in favour of admitting women the last time the club had a formal poll on the issue in 2015, when 50.5% supported a rule change to allow female members. The motion failed because a two-thirds majority was required. Another vote on the subject is expected in June.

A few members have been attempting unsuccessfully to get the rules changed since the 1980s, but the existence of an ineffectual internal movement for reform does not impress the club’s critics.

Harman said: “It’s not good enough to say that you are hoping women will be able to join in the future. If you can’t admit women, then you shouldn’t be a member.”

Lords (no ladies), bishops and ambassadors

Interpreting the membership list requires a close familiarity with the alphabet soup that acts as shorthand for the honours and titles awarded to people considered to be the most eminent members of British society. The list is dotted with FRSLs, FSAs, KCVOs and GCMGs.

At least 90 members have been awarded CBEs (commander of the order of the British empire) and 96 have been given OBEs (officer of the order of the British empire). Nine have KCMG (knight commander of the order of St Michael and St George) after their name for service variously as ambassadors to Moscow, Rome and Washington, or for roles at the top of Nato, the UN, the Foreign Office and the European Commission.

The list, which dates from late 2023, includes three bishops (two retired and one serving) and 14 reverends. About 150 include the title Sir by their names and 40 list themselves as Lord.

Two lines in the membership list are needed to fit all the honours received by Christopher Geidt, the Rt Hon the Lord, GCB GCVO OBE QSO PC, a former private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II and later an independent adviser on ministers’ interests to the then prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Mary Ann Sieghart, the author of The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men, said: “It’s not trivial because it does actually damage women in their careers if they can’t associate with more powerful people in their industries; it’s often the informal meetings that lead to job offers and promotions. Anybody who believes in fairness and equality should feel extremely uncomfortable about being a member of a club that excludes half the population.”

The civil service frequently restates its commitment to improving equality and diversity within its workforce, while MI6 is on a drive to shake off the perception that it is staffed exclusively by white, male Oxbridge graduates.

Spokespeople for Case, Moore and Dowden declined to comment. The Garrick was contacted for comment, as were all members mentioned here. Most declined to comment.

The BBC’s Simpson, a member since 2001, said: “I’m profoundly and passionately in favour of opening the Garrick’s membership to women, because I feel the continued bar to their joining is an embarrassing blight on an otherwise delightful institution.” Chote, Willetts and Faulks said they supported women becoming members.

Fry has said previously he feels “ashamed and mortified by the continuing exclusion of women from our club”. Bonneville and Lewis are understood to have voted in favour of women in 2015, and most actors are thought to be in favour of a rule change. Cox, a member since 1996, said it was “about time” women were admitted. “This archaic practice is ridiculous in the 21st century,” he said.

The former justice secretary Buckland (who is understood to be in favour of admitting women as is Gove) said the club was “a place to go to socialise, to relax and to talk about nice things” but was not a place where work was conducted.

Forte said he had voted against women members “because the Garrick was built as a gentlemen’s club”.