15-02-27 Victoria Borwick.jpg
Deputy Mayor for London and former Olympia antiques fairs director Victoria Borwick addresses last September’s Art Business Conference.

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They could just as easily have been Borwick Bikes. But, as has been the case for much of her career to date, Victoria Borwick (pronounced Borrick) has often found herself in the position of engine driver rather than captain.

When she does get the chance to take centre stage she shows what she can do, as last September's inaugural Art Business Conference demonstrated when, as Deputy Mayor, she gave the morning's keynote speech in praise of London.

Now, finally, with the demise of Sir Malcolm Rifkind's political career, she has declared herself a runner for the Conservative candidacy in the race to replace him in the absolutely plum seat of Kensington & Chelsea. How her current boss, Boris Johnson, must be kicking himself that he is stuck with Uxbridge and South Ruislip - a wonderfully true blue constituency, no doubt, but rather more inconvenient for Downing Street and Westminster.

Fierce competition

Also in the frame, according to the London Evening Standard, are the Prime Minister's favourite speech writer and his education adviser, both young and female - vote-winning attributes par excellence - and a number of others. Competition will inevitably be fierce because, barring an extremely serious upset, whoever wins the candidacy wins the seat.

So, while the local Conservative Association mulls over the various submissions, let me be the first to call on the PM to Back Borwick for the job.


Quite simply because the art and antiques industry could do with a new champion at this level and I can't think of any occasion when Mr Cameron has been offered such a gift as a candidate, from both the local and national perspective. Get your box-ticking pens out now.

First of all, Victoria is local, not someone parachuted in to fill a quota. She has lived in the borough for decades, is well known to the association and the local political scene, and understands well what the key local issues are.

Secondly, she brings a uniquely London-wide perspective as Deputy Mayor to bear on these local issues; most importantly for our art and antiques community she is an expert on the competing tensions of property values and community character when it comes to problems facing dealers in Portobello or along Kensington Church Street. She has declared herself an enemy of the Mansion Tax, but will also be well aware that those living in £5m-10m properties in the streets surrounding Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove value the Bohemian atmosphere that the antiques community has created as much as the uplift in the prices of their homes.

Clash at Olympia

Thirdly, she has a lengthy business background as Group Exhibitions Director for Olympia's fine art and antiques fairs, a role from which she was unceremoniously dumped in 2001 by the then owner Andrew Morris, a move for which the exhibitors never forgave him. Nor should they have. Morris wanted the business to develop quickly, but gave the impression of wanting that to be the case come what may; Borwick, as strong a personality - not everyone was a fan - but with the better understanding of their customers, defended the fairs' core values in the interest of exhibitors. They clashed and her departure was inevitable.

Here's what ATG wrote at the time: "Last week exhibitors were dismayed to hear of Mrs Borwick's departure and expressed grave doubts about the future of the fairs when she leaves.

"Victoria Borwick has built up a close rapport with exhibitors who are vociferous in their faith in her ability to put together a large and profitable quality fair." We also described her as being "internationally recognised as the driving force that raised [the fairs] to their present status in the 1990s".

As a result of her Olympia role, Victoria came to know Costas Kleanthous well. A dealer, along with his brother Chris, in high-end vintage watches and jewellery, he exhibited at the fair for years. He also chairs the Portobello Antique Dealers' Association, with a shop on Portobello Road - so no introductions are necessary on that front either. Nor are they for Patrick Sandberg, Ian Butchoff and other stalwarts of Kensington Church Street, who are also Olympia veterans.

Political voice for the trade

Her election would mean that they would at least have a voice where it matters.

The political pundit Peter Kellner, who heads up pollsters YouGov, gave his insider's view on what was likely to happen in the May General Election to delegates at the LAPADA Conference at the House of Lords on Tuesday last week.

Basically the message was: Too close to call.

In these circumstances, Mr Cameron needs all the help he can get, so how else can Victoria Borwick support him?

For starters, her experience and judgment not only put her way ahead of the rest of the field in terms of contacts and political nous, but she also has gravitas and cuts an impressively serious figure. All of this could be brought to bear not just in the Commons, but also in an immediate Cabinet, or at least senior ministerial, position. Her arts background might point most obviously towards the Culture department, but the art market, in which she operated, is better suited as a concern of the Business department. The PM would have someone well versed in both politics and business at a local, national and international level, who would also represent a genuine commitment by the Conservatives to promoting older women to high-profile meaty roles on merit - the subject of broadcaster Kirsty Young's concern in an article in the same issue of the London Evening Standard.

Chairing the LAPADA conference last week was Conservative eminence grise Peter, Lord Chadlington, who also happens to be the chairman of Witney, Mr Cameron's constituency association. In his address to delegates, Lord Chadlington made much of the role of women in his world of PR, describing their ability to read the mood in a room better than men and the sensitivity to situations which gives them the edge over men in this field.

The female touch

At ATG in recent weeks we have been discussing just how much this also applies to fair organisers. Women dominate in the role of fair director across the most successful events in the art and antiques sector, in the UK at least: Anna Haughton at Art Antiques London, Nassy Vassegh and Nicola Winwood at Masterpiece, Mieka Sywak at LAPADA's Berkeley Square fair, Mary-Claire Boyd at Olympia, Victoria Siddall at Frieze, Kate Bryan at Art15, Gay Hutson and Bunny Wynn at the 20/21 fairs, Gillian Craig at the BADA Fair, Helen Edwards at the London Original Print Fair... the list goes on and apologies for anyone I've left out - by the way TEFAF Maastricht, how about a few women on your committee?

Victoria Borwick is imbued with the same qualities. Perhaps Lord Chadlington would care to have a quiet word with his local MP on her behalf.

You can show your support by tweeting your opinion and including the hashtag #BackBorwick