Theatre executive Julian Bird praises ‘resilience’ of sector as he is made OBE

Julian Bird, the former chief executive of the Society of London Theatre (Solt) and UK Theatre, has praised the “remarkable resilience” of the sector after being made an OBE in the New Year Honours.

Bird, 48, stood down from the role this year after delaying his exit in response to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the industry.

A former chief operating officer at the Tate galleries, Bird joined Solt in November 2010 and helped transform the annual Olivier Awards as executive producer.

European premiere of Empire of Light – BFI London Film Festival 2022
Julian Bird worked with Sir Sam Mendes, above, during the pandemic (PA)

He also campaigned for financial support from the Government during Covid-19 – before the launch of the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund (CRF).

Bird, who features on the annual list for his services to theatre, dedicated the honour to the “many, many people” who contributed to the success of the sector in the past few years.

He told the PA news agency: “It was a time of enormous change – change in society, change in the way the industry looked at itself and who it employed and engaged and, of course, with some huge and very dramatic events that happened during that period, with a pandemic that I don’t think anyone could have possibly foreseen stretching the industry to its very breaking point.

“But the remarkable hindsight is how resilient the theatre industry was and how it came together, and how we were able to make a cohesive argument to the Government for the support that we eventually received in the form of the CRF.”

Praising those who worked to protect the theatre industry during the pandemic, Bird added: “Theatre productions happen through creativity and collaboration and both of those two things shone through over the last two or three years.

“I’m very honoured to get the OBE but it isn’t just mine.

“Many, many people contributed to all that success and it’s that collaboration and that creativity that stands front and centre.”

Bird helped Sir Sam Mendes, the acclaimed director of films such as Skyfall and 1917 and plays including The Lehman Trilogy and The Ferryman, spearhead a fund for freelance theatre workers which raised millions during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, he founded Green Room Ents with producer and theatre owner Nica Burns and they have since put on productions on Cunard ships, with plans for further projects in Washington DC and London.

Bird warned that despite “some temporary relief” from the Government, energy prices are going to become a “real challenge” for the industry in the coming months.

He added: “And of course the cost of living. But the good news is it appears to have been a successful Christmas season so far. Theatre has shown how resilient it is.

“The theatre industry, if you look back over the last three years, it showed how remarkably resilient it is, with all the blows that have been thrown at it.

“I’m sure theatre will continue to change and adapt but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be difficult.”