Obituary: Peter Clayton – ‘endlessly resourceful in connecting the right people to make things happen’
Peter Clayton’s name was not one most theatregoers would have recognised, even though he was featured in GQ magazine’s list of the UK’s “most connected men” in 2014. But behind the scenes his contributions to the managerial boards of theatre organisations large and small was substantial and significant. So, too, was his support and encouragement of directors, actors, producers and a myriad other creatives, groups and movements.
After graduating from the City of London Business School in 1984, he developed a high-flying career in finance and communications on three continents before setting up his own consultancy business with clients as diverse as Barclays Bank, BUPA and Old Vic Productions. He brought the experience he gained in global finance to his passion for theatre and his firm belief that it could transform lives. Latterly he became involved in production, notably the 2014 UK tour of Shrek the Musical. Caro Newling, one of the producers of Shrek, recalls that he was “endlessly resourceful in connecting the right people to make things happen”.
Clayton wore his achievements and wealth with unassuming ease, often declining to take credit for his actions. Instead, he preferred to devote his energy to issues he believed in, such as access to the arts (theatre in particular), support for young people, gender, class and colour equality, feminism and LGBT rights.
His passion for theatre had been ignited by an invitation to join the board of Chichester Festival Theatre in 2007. His eight-year tenure saw him become more convinced of theatre’s capacity to be topical without being trite, developing into a persuasive advocate for young artists and helping to establish its fledging youth theatre group.
As a trustee of the HighTide Theatre Festival in East Anglia, which focuses on new writing, Clayton’s connections and understanding of branding and fundraising helped support founder-director Sam Hodges in its first year.
His other theatre appointments included the Criterion Theatre, where as a long-standing trustee he championed new writing, diversity and wider access, a board member of Tonic Theatre and non-executive director of the multiple-Olivier and Tony award-winning Greene Light Stage (previously Old Vic Productions, whose West End credits include Billy Elliot, Jerusalem and Private Lives).
Clayton and his friend Greg Mosse devised a script development programme to take place on the Criterion stage in 2015, welcoming a diverse range of playwrights, with paid actors performing readings. As the list of successful productions grew, with the support of Fiona Callaghan and the Criterion Theatre Trust, they extended the scheme to showcase performances in the West End and in regional venues.
In 2016, he became a trustee of the National Youth Theatre, and chair of its development board. NYT chief executive Paul Roseby recalls his “canny knack of simultaneously opening up people’s hearts and minds as well as their pockets. He was the alchemy in the room, connecting people who could help our cause with his persuasive charm, humour and passion. A hugely positive and personal advocate of our work, we will miss him enormously.”
He filled a similar position with the London and Los Angeles-based, BAFTA-nominated multimedia production company Luti Media, which makes music videos, from 2015 until his death. Outside of theatre, Clayton was active in film and television, serving as executive producer on the 2011 musical Hunky Dory and, more recently, on Mark Greenstreet’s small-screen thriller Silent Hours in 2017.
No less important to him was his partnering with fellow NYT trustee David Lammy MP and artist Nicola Green in their Diaspora Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. One of the artists featured, the Gambian-born Khadija Saye, lost her life in the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017, after which Clayton assiduously promoted her legacy.
He was a fervent supporter of the Mount Kenya Trust and Born Free Foundation, as well as the HIV/Aids education service ACE Africa and the UK charities Cruisaid and Act for Change, which promotes access to the arts. In the last decade, he was involved in raising over £30 million for not-for-profit arts organisations.
Peter Jonathan Clayton was born on June 20, 1963 and died on June 18, aged 54.