2011 Honouree: Lloyd Dorfman

In any discussion of what philanthropy and sponsorship can do for the arts, the story of the Travelex tickets at the National Theatre is never far away. In the nine years since they were launched, priced initially at £10 and now at £12, 1.2m have been sold. Of those, almost a third were bought by people who had never visited the National before. The scheme has become an example that theatres around the country – and indeed around the world – would love to emulate. What they will struggle to find is a man with the vision and enthusiasm of Travelex’s founder, Lloyd Dorfman.

Lloyd started his currency exchange business 35 years ago, beginning with a single shop in central London, and has since seen the company valued at more than £1bn. Under his guidance, Travelex has become a major sponsor of the arts, and it was his decision to support the National’s £10 ticket scheme. “Travelex tickets have totally turned around the perception of the National Theatre,” says Nicholas Hytner, its director. “And it means we have been able, most years, to present at least one challenging new play, as well as a much more uncompromising repertoire of classical and recent plays than the National had been able to produce for some time.”

Meanwhile, Lloyd’s personal contribution to the performing arts has been extraordinary. He is a significant donor to The Royal Opera House, the Southbank, the Royal Court, the Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Ballet School, Sadlers Wells and the Roundhouse, where he also sat as chairman for three years. In the past, he also supported the Royal Opera House through another Travelex sponsorship, which made many of the best seats available for just £10. Of the people who applied for these tickets, 80% had never made a booking there before. At the Southbank Centre, his personal contribution helped to make it possible for the renovation of the Royal Festival Hall to be completed on time, and on budget.

And of course, Lloyd is also a central figure at the National where, in 2007, he joined the Board. Its current N.T Future project will renovate the theatre complex, making it larger, more technologically sophisticated and more energy-efficient, as well as helping to expand its education work. Should any prospective donor want proof of Lloyd’s own commitment to the project, they need only look at the £10m he pledged to it himself last year. This gift is almost certainly the largest ever made by a private individual to a British theatre – a truly startling case of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.

“Lloyd is a genuine theatre enthusiast,” Hytner says. “He and his wife Sarah are great theatregoers, and he’s personally committed to the idea of more people seeing good work.”

When the NT Future project is completed, towards the end of 2013, the Cottesloe Theatre will quite rightly be renamed the Dorfman Theatre. A still greater testament to Lloyd’s achievements, however, will be the Dorfman audiences who return to sit there in the decades to come.