Tory donor John Booth appointed chair of National Gallery

·3 min read

A venture capital investor who donated more than £200,000 to the Tory party in 2017 has been appointed chair of the National Gallery.

John Booth will succeed Tony Hall, the former director general of the BBC who stood down as chair in May during the fallout over Martin Bashir and the Diana, Princess of Wales interview.

Booth is described as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He chairs the Prince’s Trust and Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex, as well as the communications company Maintel and the London Theatre Company, created by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr.

It is his connection to the Conservative party that will set off alarm bells for some who accuse Boris Johnson’s government of trying to stack the boards of cultural institutions with supporters.

Under the Cabinet Office’s governance code on public appointments, “any significant political activity undertaken by an appointee in the last five years must be declared”. In Booth’s case it is a recordable donation of £207,000 to the Tories in 2017.

He takes over as chair of the National Gallery from Sir John Kingman, who served as interim chair after Lord Hall’s departure.

The appointment comes at an important time for the gallery, which is planning a £30m upgrade to coincide with its 200th anniversary in 2024. The project includes improving the lobby of its Sainsbury Wing, which handles twice as many visitors as originally envisaged. The brief is to make it a “more open, inclusive and enjoyable environment for visitors”.

It also wants to create a new research centre and improve outdoor space on Trafalgar Square.

Booth said: “I’m delighted to take up this role as the National Gallery prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2024. The gallery’s amazing collection, including so many of the world’s greatest paintings, belongs to the whole nation and we look forward to sharing it afresh with visitors as we emerge from the pandemic, and as we continue to grow our international digital presence.”

The National Gallery has a history of appointing well connected people as chair of trustees. Previous chairs include the writer and philanthropist Hannah Rothschild and the businessman Mark Getty, son of the billionaire art collector and donor Sir John Paul Getty Jr.

Gabriele Finaldi, the director of the National Gallery, said: “All of us at the National Gallery are immensely looking forward to working closely with John Booth. He becomes our chair of trustees as we develop our plans for the gallery bicentenary in 2024 and brings a wealth of experience and skill to enable us to realise them for the benefit of the public.”

Booth has only been on the National Gallery board since February. He originally joined as liaison trustee of the Tate, where he served as deputy chair. He was appointed a National Gallery trustee by the prime minister in August.

He was appointed by the sitting board of trustees who are all, apart from the Tate appointment, appointed by the sitting prime minister. His tenure will run until 2025, when he will be eligible to serve a further term.

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