Diana Harris

Diana Harris

Diana Harris is a devoted friend of the RCM.

Her late husband, Martin Harris, established a scholarship in his name which is still awarded to a singer, and Diana herself set up the Gandar Dower award to support a string player. These awards have benefited many RCM students over several years. Indefatigable, she reveals that music is just one of her many interests.

How did your own interest in music start?

During the war, I was evacuated from Palace Gate to Sussex. There was a pianola and I remember hearing Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Later I attended many of Myra Hess’s famous National Gallery concerts which were superb.

While reading history at King’s College, London, I took piano lessons at the Guildhall. En route to my lectures, I would go in to the Guildhall early each morning to do an hour’s practice. I remember enjoying learning Mozart and Beethoven piano sonatas. I don’t think I was particularly good, but I got a lot of pleasure from it!


How did your relationship with the College evolve?

My late husband Martin was invited by Leopold de Rothschild to join the group of people who were raising money to build a proper opera theatre for the RCM as part of the centenary celebrations in the 1980s. Towards the end of the campaign he took over leadership of the group, which managed to raise more than six million pounds to build the Britten Theatre.


What do you remember of the College's facilities at that time?

The original opera space, the Parry Theatre, was buried beneath the Concert Hall. It was dark, dusty, cramped and airless, quite unsuitable for opera.

The new Britten Theatre designed by Sir Hugh Casson was perfect for the College’s talented students. The Gala opening was very special. Martin sat next to the Queen and I was next to Leo. It was lovely to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Britten Theatre in November last year, and to see that the space continues to thrive.


You have supported RCM musicians for over 20 years. Why did you choose this particular way of being involved with the College?

After the campaign, Martin continued his interest in the College by providing scholarships for singers. I didn’t want to be left out, so I began to support instrumentalists. My first student was Corina Belcea. From that marvellous relationship my interest in chamber music developed, and led to my supporting the Belcea Quartet.

It has been wonderful to watch them develop and succeed internationally. As well as the Belceas, I supported Anna Harpham and continued supporting some of Martin’s singers as well as some of my own, including Clint van der Linde, Alfie Boe, Clare Surnam and Jimmy Holliday.

I have continued to be involved with students long after they have left the RCM and these relationships are important to me. I really enjoy getting to know the students, and attending their concerts in London and further afield. I am a life long friend of the Yehudi Menuhin School, too, so I support young musicians even before they reach music college.

Music isn't your only interest, is it?

I suppose not! I was politically active when my children were younger [Diana has four sons and eight grandchildren], culminating in a year as Mayor of Merton which gave me opportunities to meet all sorts of people and do interesting things.

I also travelled extensively with Martin [who was with Price Waterhouse and Reckitt & Colman] and vividly recall, for example, a fascinating visit to a factory in Brazil. Martin was Master of the Drapers’ Company and I am still involved in their activities. I also love football, and am a season ticket holder for AFC Wimbledon. I rarely miss a home match, and get to most of the away matches too!

This interview first appeared in Upbeat (spring 2012), the RCM magazine.

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Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS. Tel: +44(0)20 7591 4300 Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS.
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