Biz Extra

Published: April 23, 2020 | Updated: April 23, 2020

20 Questions: Elspeth McBain, Chief Executive Officer, Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts

By Andrew Diprose, editor

Each week we shine the spotlight on a member of Dorset’s business community and ask him, or her, for answers to our part fun/part serious questionnaire. This time…

She once acted as an impromptu chauffeur to Sir Ian McKellen, chooses the beach at Branksome as her favourite place in Dorset, lists chocolate – closely followed by a bacon roll – as her favourite foods and would like to be remembered, among other things, for ‘getting rid of the awful obscured glass’ at the front of one of Poole’s most prominent buildings.

Elspeth McBain, Chief Executive Officer, Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, takes the 20 Questions’ hotseat.

Question: What is your favourite TV show?

Answer: I’m currently hooked on Race Across the World. It fulfils my interest in how people connect with each other, the decisions they make, the places they see and my competitive need to see who wins. It’s escapism at its international best and fuels my own desire to see more of the world and be more adventurous.

Q: Who would you like to share a car with?

A: I once shared a car with Sir Ian McKellen when I drove him from Lighthouse to his hotel in Blandford. He was expecting a taxi, but it was too good an opportunity to miss so I announced that I was his chauffeur for the trip! He was very gracious although no doubt somewhat concerned that this mad woman had kidnapped him… and we had a terrific conversation. My children were impressed that I had had Magneto from X Men in the front seat of ‘their ‘car. I’d now like to be in a car with comedian Lee Mack – he never fails to make me laugh out loud. So quick and clever. Maybe one day I shall be his taxi driver too and then he’ll realise we were made for each other…

Q: The best bit of my job is…?

A: Bringing so many inspiring and gifted artists and productions to the region. As Lighthouse has a concert hall, theatre, cinema and studio I experience the most amazing array of theatre, dance, music, comedy, circus and film. Seeing the reaction of the audiences and knowing the joy that these artists bring to them makes the job really worthwhile. Following closure of the venue for the Covid-19 pandemic, we are eternally grateful for the generosity of many customers who donated the cost of their tickets to Lighthouse. The organisation relies on earning 80 per cent of its income through commercial activity – public funding, fundraising and sponsorship make up the critical rest. This income has been an absolute life saver and the support and love shown by our customers has been life affirming for both myself and my colleagues. Working with this fabulous team is of particular value to me and I am so utterly proud of them. Our weekly Zoom meetings during the lockdown have been very special!

Q: And the worst…?

A: Constantly having to justify why the arts are important to our town, region and society. We need creativity in society. It’s a fundamental part of life whether it’s actors on TV, musicians in orchestras or in bands – live, recorded, on the radio or online – writers creating brilliant novels, plays and films, directors reworking classic novels or making new exciting work, lighting designers or film makers. During the current lockdown we have all found the need to engage with culture and some of the best artists in the world have broadcast such amazing things that anyone with an internet connection can access for free.

Q: Who was your childhood hero?

A: Hmm – musically it was Marc Bolan. I was born in the 60s and absolutely loved the pop musicians of the 70s when I was a teenager. My dad disapproved of pop music which made it all the more exciting!

Q: What’s your favourite smell?

A: I currently can’t smell anything at all having had the Covid-19 virus symptoms at the end of March. However, I miss the smell of the sea and perfume. I ask for perfume from my family for every birthday and enjoy seeing what scents they choose for me.

Q: Where’s your favourite place in Dorset?

A: Gosh – where to start? I moved to Poole from South London 11 years ago and it was a total culture shock. And I am still exploring. Most favourite is the beach at Branksome, but the most amazing and intriguing place is Tyneham village. I feel so upset for the families who had to leave their homes.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone starting out on a career?

A: I learned early on that I had to make my own chances and that no one was going to give me a career; I’d have to make it myself. The dream job is a misnomer and you have to start at the start and work hard to not only get to where you want to be, but to find out where you want to be. If I haven’t known how to do something, I’ve managed to persuade interviewers that I can do it and then learned very fast! You have to put the hours in and have a great can-do attitude. Business is about working with people and humour, integrity and enthusiasm are a must.

Q: What was your first record/CD?

A: I bought two singles when I was about eight – ‘In the Summertime’ by Mungo Jerry and ‘Crocodile Rock’ by Elton John. My first album (vinyl of course) was Tom Petty’s second album You’re Gonna Get It! Teenage years clearly changed my musical tastes. I still know all the tracks – the lyrics ingrained from years of singing along to it in my bedroom much to the annoyance of my family. I still have the album but sadly the singles were ‘lost’ when my dad decided to donate them to a youth club…

Q: What gets you angry?

A: Insufficient funding to the NHS, schools, communities generally. Politicians who have no empathy with what happens in the real world of most people.

Q: Do you have a favourite piece of music?

A: Solveig’s Song from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite is the most exquisite work for voice and orchestra. A sublime and evocative work – melancholic but peaceful – that only the best female singers can do justice to.

Q: What are the qualities you look for in a new employee?

A: Competency and an appetite to learn all the time. They must have a great work ethic and a flexible supportive attitude and be able to work harmoniously with colleagues in all departments to get the job done well. Ours is a people business – whether it be the artists who perform on our stages, the creative teams who put the shows together, the community that engage with us, and our audiences and so we need colleagues who put our artists and customers first. Every one of our team always represents the company, so a professional performance is required at every level.

Q: What’s your favourite food or dish?

A: Well chocolate of course – followed closely by a bacon roll!

Q: Steamed sponge pudding and custard or a plate of melon?

A: Melon – but if you’d said sticky toffee pudding…

Q: Name the best thing about living/working in Dorset?

A: Sailing. I only learned to sail when I moved to Poole and it’s the most fantastic thing I have ever done. I wish I had found this when I was younger and rather more agile, but there is rather a lack of sailing opportunity in South London! Crewing for Ian and Geoff has brought immense joy and plays to my competitive nature and gets me outside in our incredibly beautiful environment.

Q: If you were Prime Minister for the day what would be the first thing you do?

A: After exploring 10 Downing Street thoroughly, I would increase funding for local authorities that have had to live through years of austerity and still deliver essential services for education, health and well-being and community infrastructure. It is shocking the choices that our council must make to deliver fundamental human rights.

Q: What’s your biggest frustration?

A: At the moment in lockdown it’s that I can’t go sailing!

Q:  Where’s your favourite holiday location?

A: It’s a caravan on a beautiful farm in Croyde in North Devon. I have been going there every year since I was a small child and have brought my own boys up to love it too. Still hoping that one day the caravan will be refurbished!

Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

A: Sitting in that caravan in Devon reflecting on my career, sailing around the UK and hopefully beyond, and exploring the world as I will be fully retired. Maybe I will be a grandmother by then and able to take the grandchildren to see all the fabulous productions that there are.

Q: What would you like to be remembered for?

A: 1) Bringing brilliant and interesting artists and productions to Poole and ensuring that Lighthouse remains one of the best regional venues in the UK; 2) Providing memorable moments and bringing our community together; 3) Being a good and empathetic boss and colleague; 4) Getting rid of the awful obscured glass at the front of the venue!