16 February 2024

The City of London Corporation is delighted to announce that theatre entrepreneurs Dame Rosemary Squire and Sir Howard Panter have received the Freedom of the City of London today (Friday 16 February 2024), in recognition of their contribution to theatre and the cultural life of London.

Dame Rosemary and Sir Howard – who were nominated by Lord Mayor of the City of London, Professor Michael Mainelli, and former Lord Mayor, Sir William Russell – attended their ceremony at Guildhall, watched by family members, friends, and colleagues.

Today, they join a distinguished list of luminaries from the fields of music and theatre to have received the Freedom, including Luciano Pavarotti, Tasmin Little, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Ed Sheeran, and Stephen Sondheim.

The Freedom of the City of London is believed to date back to the thirteenth century, making it one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today and a unique slice of London’s history.

Rosemary and Howard built from scratch and ran for its first 25 years, the world’s largest and most successful live theatre business – the Ambassador Theatre Group Ltd (ATG) and it all started with the acquisition of the Duke of York’s Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane in 1991.

In 2017, they started all over from the ground up and now run global live entertainment business Trafalgar Entertainment, with production and ticketing offices on The Strand.

The couple also led the calls for theatres to open following the Covid lockdowns, and in the summer of 2021, navigating a post-lockdown landscape, they were one of the first theatre producers to open a new show, with a glorious revival of classic musical, Anything Goes at London’s Barbican Centre. Theatre was back.

Throughout their careers, the couple have acquired operated or built some 70 commercial theatres in London, the UK regions and internationally. In London, Rosemary and Howard have owned some of the city’s most iconic theatres including the Lyceum, Savoy, Apollo Victoria, Harold Pinter, and Piccadilly.

Under Howard’s ten-year Chairmanship of Rambert Dance Company, they successfully built their award-winning £22m new dance centre on the South Bank and led the company into a new era of success and stability. And as President of the Society of London Theatre in 2005, Rosemary became the second only female President in the organisation’s history.

The couple have devoted their lives to theatre and live entertainment and, between them, Rosemary and Howard have recently clocked up over 100 years working in the industry. They have directly produced more than 300 theatre productions, sold more than 160m tickets and employed more than 30,000 people in the UK’s world-beating creative industries.

The couple are currently producing the critically-acclaimed The Merchant of Venice 1936 starring Tracy-Ann Oberman at The Criterion Theatre. Having produced summer shows at the Barbican Theatre since 2021, Howard and Rosemary have launched an innovative producing partnership with the Barbican team. Later this summer, they will open Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate directed by Tony Award winning Bart Sher, and starring multi-award-winning Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty and Ridley) and Broadway musical royalty and Tony Award winner Stephanie J. Block (Into The Woods, The Cher Show, 9 to 5). They are also producing the multi-award winning The King and I starring Helen George (BBC’s Call The Midwife) now playing in the West End at The Dominion Theatre.

Rosemary and Howard, said: “We are truly honoured to receive the Freedom of the City of London and thank Lord Mayor Michael Mainelli and Sir William Russell, on behalf of the City of London Corporation, for nominating us. London has always played a hugely significant part in our personal and professional lives, and we adore this city, its rich culture, the people, the vibrant way of life, and of course, its world-beating theatre.

“From very early into our careers, we knew London held a very special place in our hearts. It was from here that we built from the ground up, two global theatre and live entertainment businesses, and we’ve spent our entire careers producing musicals and plays in the West End. London will always have our hearts.”

Lord Mayor of the City of London, Professor Michael Mainelli, said: “Howard and Rosemary are a much respected and formidable double act in the world of entertainment, having produced hundreds of wildly popular shows and owned several wonderful theatres. It is entirely appropriate that their outstanding achievements and contribution to theatre and our capital city’s cultural life are recognised by their Freedom awards today.”

Sir William Russell, said: “As a musical theatre lover and avid consumer of arts and culture, it is a pleasure to support the Freedom nomination for Howard and Rosemary who, today, found themselves in the spotlight and in front of an audience for their ceremony at Guildhall. In receiving this award, they follow in the footsteps of many hugely respected figures in arts and culture whose work enriches our lives.”

Main photo: Dave Benett