Irish head of London’s Wigmore Hall receives OBE for services to music

Gilhooly honoured alongside comedian Rowan Atkinson

John Gilhooly with his OBE at Buckingham Palace yesterday. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

John Gilhooly with his OBE at Buckingham Palace yesterday. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire


John Gilhooly, the Irish-born head of one of London’s most important concert halls, spends his days with some of the world’s best classical musicians, but yesterday he shared the limelight with comedian Rowan Atkinson.

The two were among those honoured by Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony in Buckingham Palace, where Mr Gilhooly (40) was awarded an OBE for services to music.

“It was split-second timing. The queen came in on the dot of 11,” the Castleconnell, Co Limerick-born, artistic and executive director of London’s Wigmore Hall told The Irish Times after the honours ceremony. “Rowan Atkinson got a CBE, so it was very nice to chat with him. The queen was very nice. She’s very supportive of our work. I thanked her, of course, for her visit to Ireland. She said she loved it.”

Now 12 years in the role, Mr Gilhooly has seen the Wigmore’s box office returns and membership numbers reach their highest figures to date, as well as a doubling of overall revenue and annual fundraising.

In July 2010, he was elected chairman of one of the oldest music societies in the world, the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society – which commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for £50 – “the best £50 ever spent”, he joked.

Buckingham Palace
He was accompanied to Buckingham Palace by his mother, Helen, and younger brother, Owen, the baritone currently appearing in the Wexford Festival Opera. “Growing up in Castleconnell was filled with music, traditional and chamber.

“Music is not alien to that parish, there is even a concert there this week,” he said.

“I have been incredibly touched by the numbers of people who have got in touch to send best wishes over the honour, including people who I haven’t met for 20 years.”

Having graduated in 1994 from University College Dublin with a history and political science degree, he studied classical vocal studies, as a tenor, at the Dublin City College of Music and the Leinster School of Music, under soprano Dr Veronica Dunne.

“I am a very proud Irish man. I still have the Irish accent, and always will have. I support Irish artists here wherever I can,” he said.

Great opportunities
“This country has given me opportunities that I would never have had at home. I’m very happy to be here at the Wigmore. In the 1980s, it would have been hard for an Irish man to get a job like it, so it shows how much has changed.”

Each year, he attends 200 of the 400 concerts put on at the Wigmore.

By yesterday afternoon, he had changed out of the morning suit necessary for a palace appearance and was back in the concert hall “where the staff wanted to open the champagne”.