In conversation with Veronica Wadley CBE, Baroness Fleet
Veronica Wadley CBE, Baroness Fleet, is a member of the RCM Council and More Music Campaign Cabinet. She is currently Chair of the London Music Fund and of the Department for Education’s Expert Panel for the Model Music Curriculum. From 2010 to 2018, she was Chair of Arts Council London and a Board Member of Arts Council England.
In the first instalment in a new series introducing our Council members, we spoke to Veronica about her varied career and tireless advocacy for the arts.
Veronica, you’ve had an extraordinary career in journalism and the arts, as editor of the Evening Standard from 2002 to 2009, senior advisor to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London from 2012 to 2016 – and you’ve been a member of the RCM Council since 2018. What do you particularly enjoy about being a member the RCM Council?
Without doubt, the music – and the opportunity to support and watch the students flourish. Pre-pandemic, I loved coming to the RCM, knowing that from the moment I walked in, I would hear music. During the lockdown, Stephen Johns (RCM Artistic Director) and the team did a great job of providing more music for us all. I particularly remember Puccini's glorious Messa di Gloria, and, after a Council meeting, Dmitrii Kalashnikov streaming the first movement of Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat from Moscow.
I have a particular attachment to the RCM because, as a child, I was frog marched into the hallowed halls for my piano exams. Terrifying, but certainly memorable! Sadly, I was not a promising student and as a teenager, I became ‘the audience’ to wonderful fellow students such as cellist Melissa Phelps, now a professor at the RCM.
As a Governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School and a Trustee of the London Music Fund, much of your work involves the championing of young musicians. What are you particularly proud of?
Setting up the London Music Fund in 2011 was a great moment. The then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, asked me to do something to boost music education and the result was the London Music Fund. We had to raise £1m in six months from a standing start.
Ten years on, we have funded over 550 four-year scholarships for children with talent and potential. They are all from low-income families, with over 60% BAME. When one of our first scholars, a violinist from Hounslow, won a scholarship to the Yehudi Menuhin School, I must admit I was proud. And this year, our 10th Anniversary, we have won the 2021 Music & Drama Education Award for Outstanding Musical Initiative.
One area you’re involved in is the Genesis Kickstart Fund, recently launched by the Genesis Foundation. Can you tell us why this kind of scheme is important and what it does to support young musicians?
The pandemic has been tough for all musicians and artists, particularly young graduates who are starting out on their careers. With the help of Stephen (Johns), we identified some outstanding RCM musicians who were invited to submit applications to Genesis Kickstart to create a first-class music project involving other young artists. I was delighted that four – Alex Ho, Kate Simko, Alisdair Kitchen and Lizzie Holmes – won funding. I hope their careers have indeed been ‘kickstarted’.
Advocacy for musicians is more important than ever. You have sat in the House of Lords since October 2020 and your maiden speech was about the problems facing musicians in Europe. What more can we expect to hear from you?
I live in hope that the Government will finally understand the value and importance of music education. I would like to see all school children, from all regions and backgrounds, have access to first-class music education. The Department for Education’s Model Music Curriculum, which I chaired and which was published in March this year, is a start, but there is so much to do. I would like the Government to show that they understand the power of music to change lives – and that music matters.
Veronica Wadley CBE, Baroness Fleet, is a member of the RCM Council. Learn more about our Council members and the College's governing framework.