Billionaire stages £40m West End theatre bid

April 27, 2018
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The second-richest man in Britain is in talks to add to his collection of trophy entertainment assets by swooping to buy the Theatre Royal Haymarket, one of the West End’s most prized playhouses.

Sky News has learnt that Len Blavatnik, whose wealth was estimated at close to £16bn by last year’s Sunday Times Rich List, is understood to have tabled the highest bid for ‎London’s third oldest theatre.

Mr Blavatnik‎, a Ukrainian-born US citizen, is said to have authorised a bid through Access Entertainment, the business now headed by the former BBC television chief Danny Cohen.

Sources close to the auction of the Theatre Royal Haymarket‎, which is currently showing Frozen starring the actress Suranne Jones, said that Mr Blavatnik had offered a price in the region of £40m.

Bids had initially been anticipated at roughly half that price, indicating the intense nature of the interest in the Grade I-listed site.

In a recent editorial, The Stage newspaper described suggestions of a price-tag for the Theatre Royal Haymarket in excess of £30m as “absolutely bonkers”.

Mr Blavatnik’s interest underlines the changing nature of the theatre industry and the blurring of the boundaries between different forms of live entertainment and content-owners.

The billionaire tycoon formed Access Entertainment as a subsidiary of his Access Industries holding company in 2016, appointing Mr Cohen as its inaugural chief.

Len Blavatnik's businesses include Warner Music Group
Image:
Len Blavatnik’s business interests include Warner Music Group

The business is focused on investments across TV, films and theatrical productions, and is aligned with Warner Music Group, the record labels giant which is among the biggest players in the global music industry.

Mr Blavatnik bought WMG in 2011, and pledged two years ago to invest “several hundred million dollars in the initial phase” of Access Entertainment’s existence.

Since then, it has bought stakes in a number of TV production companies and invested in Broadway’s Hello, Dolly and Groundhog Day productions.

Mr Blavatnik is also among the investors in Hamilton, the hip-hop musical that has taken London by storm.

A spokesman for Mr Blavatnik declined to comment on several occasions when asked about his client’s interest in buying the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

The theatre’s seller, Louis I Michael Ltd, put it up for auction in January with 68 years remaining on its lease.

Its freehold is owned by the Crown Estate.

Some of ‎the London theatre scene’s biggest players, including Ambassador Theatre Group and Trafalgar Entertainment – headed by the husband-and-wife duo Howard Panter and Rosemary Squires – are also said to have tabled offers for the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

The ‎theatre dates back to 1720, when it occupied a nearby location, but has been on its existing site since 1821, when its exterior was renovated by the renowned architect John Nash.

It had an ignominious beginning, however, opening as the Haymarket without the permission through a Royal Patent or Charter required to stage dramas.

Its founder, John Potter, overcame that adversity when a French nobleman arrived in London and asked him to stage a play that no mainstream London theatre would put on.



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