2011 Honouree: Lady Hobson

A great performance does not just delight its audience, in many cases it fills them with an impulse to share that delight with others. And there would certainly be many fewer people watching ballet now, or practising it, if Lady Marina Hobson was not such an enthusiastic ballet fan herself.

For 12 years now, she has been a staunch supporter of the Royal Opera House – as happy to help them cover their less glamorous “core costs” as she is to fund an exciting new production.

“She really does love the ballet,” says Lord Hall, the Royal Opera House‟s chief executive. “She‟ll often do the ballet tours when we go abroad. She was there in Taiwan this summer. She loves getting to know the dancers, loves being with the company as it tours.” Indeed many of those tours, though the people watching them alongside Lady Hobson might not realise it, would never have happened without her support.

Education is a particular passion. Knowing that sometimes it is just the shortage of a small amount of money that prevents a new star from emerging, Lady Hobson has provided scholarships for young dancers year after year. She also has a longstanding commitment to new choreography, the lifeblood of the calendar. Meanwhile, her ardent support for the Royal Ballet‟s Chance to Dance programme has given more than 20,000 children who wouldn‟t normally encounter ballet the opportunity to try it for themselves. Those who take to it are given free classes, visits to Covent Garden, and – in some cases – the chance to perform on stage. Dozens have already gone on to study at professional dance schools.

For all her enthusiasm, however, Lady Hobson remains a private person, and far from dictatorial about how her money is used. As Lord Hall explains: “When she makes a gift she says, 'You must use it as you think best. You're the people who are running the organisation.' I have to say that is rare, and it's amazingly trusting. I suppose she knows us all well and feels she can trust us, which is great.” And this trust is certainly not blind. People who know Lady Hobson speak of her considerable shrewdness, an ability to read the workings of a group of people quickly, and size up what is going on.

Nor is ballet her only area of interest. An opera-lover and keen supporter of it at the Royal Opera House, she also contributes, with her family, to a range of different causes through the Hobson Charity. Its beneficiaries of all kinds, from the Alnwick Garden to the Zoological Society, would be far too long to list. Yet her continuing presence, her kindness, and her dependability have been a source of particular gratitude to everyone at Covent Garden.

“I see her much more as a friend than as a donor, to be honest with you,” Lord Hall says. “She very much is part of the Opera House family.”