Lloyd Webber: Theatre industry has been made a sacrificial lamb

Andrew Lloyd Webber said the Government has made the theatre industry a “sacrificial lamb” as he renewed calls for the publication of the delayed live events report.

The composer and theatre impresario, 73, told Nick Ferrari on LBC that Public Health England officials “don’t have a clue” about the industry and how it operates.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is among figures from the theatre and music sectors, including musician Peter Gabriel, theatre producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh and music industry trade body Live, who have launched legal action to force the Government to hand over the results from its coronavirus pilot events scheme.

The Events Research Programme ran test events at sporting, music and arts venues to assess the safety of large gatherings during the pandemic.

Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2018 – London
Sir Cameron Mackintosh (Ian West/PA)

Lord Lloyd-Webber said it was nearly “a year to the day” since he hosted one of the first pilot events at the London Palladium with West End star Beverley Knight but that the industry had not seen “a single thing from that trial”.

“The trouble is that the Public Health England officials don’t have a clue about theatre and how they’re operated. I somehow feel that we have somehow been made a sort of sacrificial lamb,” he said.

“It is something to do (with), ‘It is really dangerous to be indoors’, even though theatres are properly ventilated – there is no recycled air in any of our buildings.

“And yet you can have a pub that can open up its garden under the second phase, put a badly ventilated marquee up there – well, of course you’re going to see infections rise.

“If all of this was as serious as it was supposed to be then really everything should have been locked down again and we should have been treated fairly.”

He added: “The Government hasn’t treated us in the way it should. We just want to see what’s in this report.”

Event organisers had expected the findings of the report to be published last week, but the date was pushed back.

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel (Zak Hussein/PA)

Last week Lord Lloyd-Webber rejected an offer from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for one of his West End shows, Cinderella, to be included in the pilot scheme for live events, meaning it could proceed with a higher capacity.

Speaking on LBC, he said he regretted sitting as a Conservative member of the House of Lords until his retirement in 2017.

He said: “I have never been a member of the Conservative party, although I did take the Tory whip in the House of Lords, and quite frankly now I regret it.

“If I had known that a Tory government would do this to the arts, I would have… You couldn’t think forward like that.”

Asked what he meant by “do this”, Lord Lloyd Webber added: “Well, just not support.”

Lord Lloyd-Webber said he does not know anyone in the current Government and is yet to meet the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.

He claimed he had a better relationship with former governments, saying Sir John Major and Baroness Thatcher had a “real interest in the arts”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed earlier this month that July 19 is the new date that has been earmarked for the lifting of the remaining coronavirus restrictions.

A Government spokesperson said: “We understand a delay to full reopening is challenging for live events but we are helping our creative industries and sporting bodies through it. We have made a record £2 billion of support available for culture and £600 million for sports, on top of billions more through other government schemes.

“Our ongoing, groundbreaking Events Research Programme is gathering important evidence to help get all live events, including theatre shows, festivals and gigs, fully back up and running once it is safe to do so. We will publish the results of the programme before the move to Step 4, as we have always promised to. This aligns with the publication commitments for the other road map reviews.”