Dame Vivien Duffield continues the philanthropic legacy of her father  Sir Charles Clore, who was one of Britain’s most successful post-war businessmen. After Sir Charles’ death in 1979, Dame Vivien assumed the Chairmanship of the Clore Foundations in the UK and in Israel. In the UK she also established her own Vivien Duffield Foundation in 1987 and merged the two in 2000 to create the Clore Duffield Foundation.

Dame Vivien’s UK Foundation has supported the Royal Opera House, Tate art galleries, the Royal Ballet, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Southbank Centre and Eureka! The National Children’s Museum – as well as many hundreds of smaller projects. The Foundation has funded more than 50 Clore Learning Spaces across the UK, launched the Clore Leadership Programme for the cultural sector in 2003 and the Clore Social Leadership Programme in 2008.

From 2007 to 2010 Dame Vivien was Chair of the Campaign for Oxford University. She is the founder and Life President of JW3, London’s new Jewish Community Centre.

You devoted your life to all sorts of different charities. Is it a vocation?

My father started the charity in 1964. That was the beginning of the Foundation. It turns out we’ve given away a hundred and ninety eight million pounds in England since then, and probably as much, if not more, in Israel from a separate entity. In England most of what didn’t go to JW3, the Jewish community center, which I built, has gone to the arts. In Israel most went to science, and the rest went to social causes. There’s only one non-social and non-science cause, which is my museum in Jerusalem.

What is your museum?

The Tower of David Museum in the citadel. I started it with Daddy, the year he died.

Why didn’t you succeed your father in business?

When I got in to Stanford Business School at a very young age my father hit the roof. Jews of that generation, or anybody of that generation, really did not have girls in the business. His father came from Riga in 1904 with a sewing machine, and when he arrived in London he immediately put the children to work making trousers. His father spent 20 years in England, didn’t like the climate, went to Israel, and died there in 1927.

But your father considered himself English?

He was a hundred per cent English. He belonged to the generation that ditched Yiddish, because his father only spoke Yiddish. When my father was a boy he was sent to deliver the trousers to Selfridges, and he met Mr. Selfridge and Mr. Selfridge said to him, “And what do you want to do my boy when you grow up?” He answered, “Own the store,” and in the end he did.

“I really believe in giving only to things that I understand.”

The Clore Gallery at Tate Britain with the original pond, in 1987 © Tate 2014

Was your family religious?

On my father’s side they were more religious than on my mother’s side, but my father was not religious. We were raised as Jewish, but we had a country house and we went shooting on Saturday, and my mother smoked in the taxi on the way to synagogue on Yom Kippur. Smoking but fasting! And in a taxi, which was not done at all in those days. I got married to a Christian at age 23. There had never been a Christian in the family before.

An eccentric family?

My mother was French, aristocratic and intelligent, and came over here from necessity during the war. Dad was a rough diamond from the East End who had started making money. She met him in 1942. She had nothing, with no prospects, and she married him in ‘43. All our lives we were brought up with this cry of, “I would never have married your father if it hadn’t been for the war!” It was a disaster from the very beginning to the very end. He adored her, but my mother was a snob who married a tailor.

They divorced?

Of course they did. My mother had a succession of love affairs, all more glamorous one than the other, and she ran away with a famous man called Professor Hans Heinrich von Halban who was involved with the heavy water. At a young age I was dragged away from London to go to Cours Victor Hugo in Paris, which I hated. I lived with my mother for three years and then I went to court and said, “I want to come back to England to my father.” I always had a very difficult relationship with my mother. She belonged to that generation who were brought up to be a gilded princess in a happy world. Instead she had a disastrous life. My father never remarried.

Is generosity the aim of your life?

It’s generosity, but it’s focused.

You want to give back the chance that you had?

It’s not a sense of guilt. It’s a genuine sense of belief that as an individual you can often do more with the money than the State could, or than anybody else could.

How do you decide your charities?

We decided very early on that it was much better to specialize, and I really believe in giving only to things that I understand. For instance, the leadership program which we started 15 years ago was about leadership in the arts, and I knew about that work because I am on all these art boards and I knew what was wrong.

And the Royal Opera?

I’ve always loved the opera. My father loved music, he introduced me, he took me. I was his date to the big Maria Callas evenings, and so I had a wonderful idea about it. And I sat on the Board of the Opera. I am very happy in that world.

Why did you decide to build JW3, London’s Jewish Community Centre?

Because we’ve built three or four community centers in Israel. We’ve built an Arab one, we’ve built a joint one, there are community centers all over Israel, and I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a proper community center in London. As a consequence of this I do JW3, where we have 4,500 visitors a week. We have a very good cinema, we have a school, an excellent nursery school, we have a big room which is capable of having 200 people either for a lecture or a play. We have a lot of Hebrew and history classes, and lectures on the Holocaust. For the moment we are failing to attract teenagers and young adults. We are going to make an effort now, getting them in off the street, getting them out of the bars, getting them to be part of the community.

“I love everything to do with Oxford.”

Do you often go to Israel?

I go four times a year. I have been on the board of the Weizmann Institute for 50 years. The Weizmann is one of the only pure medical research facilities in the world.

How do you find the mood in Israel today?

I am profoundly pessimistic about the survival of the Jewish State, and have been for some time. I feel there is no long term place for a modern pluralistic Jewish State in that part of the world. I personally would find it very difficult to live there. The Israel I was brought up with is a totally different place to what it has become.

Do you feel comfortable in London?

I don’t feel I am surrounded by anti-Semitism, but I do feel a lot of anti-Israeli feeling, with people confusing Zionism with Judaism. I am afraid that Israelis are the target of a lot of misplaced prejudice almost everywhere, except in certain circles in America.

You devoted a lot of energy raising money for Oxford University?

I love everything to do with Oxford. I studied there, I did the Chairing of the Campaign and I sit on the Board of Mica Ertegun. She’s given 50 million to Oxford. We pay for students who got into Oxford but who otherwise would never actually be able to go. They’re so clever but they come from places where nobody’s ever been to university and can’t afford it.

You also raised money for a new library?

At Oxford we need a new humanities library because of the numbers of children who go to Oxford, or Cambridge, or any university, and never leave their room. They sit there on their screen all day long. There’s trying to be a revival of getting people into the library, to work communally.

New Dance Makers Workshop in the Clore Studio Upstairs at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Eureka! the National Children’s Museum, Halifax

Dame Vivien Duffield by Maria Spann

The Nursery at JW3 © Hufton + Crow

JW3, the Jewish Community Centre for London © Nina Sologubenko, www.ninasologubenko.com

Singing in the Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre Courtesy of Southbank Centre © Belinda Lawley

“I have made philanthropy my life, even if I didn’t have to.”

They say you are an exceptional fundraiser?

I raised a hundred million for the opera house.

What is your secret?

The secret is to put people who can give in a position where they have to give to you, and to treat them wonderfully well. You write a handwritten letter, you send a bunch of flowers, you take them out to dinner, you schmooze them. That’s why I don’t do it anymore, it’s too much work. My daughter Arabella is becoming very good at it.

How did you learn to fundraise?

I learned from my uncle David, my father’s younger brother, who gave these very grand fundraising dinners where everybody dressed up. He would say, “Monsieur, Madame is wearing a new diamond necklace. I bet you paid 20 grand for that! And you say you’re going to give me no more than 500! Now ladies and gentlemen, what do we think about that?!” I remember he got to one particular man and said, “I’ve seen the new Rolls Royce outside. I know what that cost you. Give me 25 grand right now!” That’s how I learned.

Are you pleased with what you have achieved?

I would have loved to have had 10 times more money, there’s so much needed doing. I have made philanthropy my life, even if I didn’t have to. You could just sign a cheque and not bother. Or you could let other people do it.

Are you rewarded for what you do?

I try to avoid all that. I don’t like it.

You could have had a life of leisure?

I could have, but for thirty two years I lived with Jocelyn Stevens, who worked unbelievably hard. He ran Express newspapers and the Royal College of Art and was Chairman of English Heritage. There was a mutual respect.

How is your life?

I have a vice, which is shooting. So as long as I can still shoot, I shoot.

What is your favourite shoot?

High pheasant.

Why are you renowned for being tough?

I think because I think like a man, and always wanted to be one. All this talk of transgender and self-declaration is giving me ideas!! Ridiculous really.


Enjoy this interview? Share it with a friend.