Remembering Sir Donald Gordon

Remembering Sir Donald Gordon – the South African businessman who donated £10 million to the building of Wales Millennium Centre.

Wales Millennium Centre’s founding patron, Sir Donald Gordon, sadly passed away on Thursday 21 November 2019, aged 89.

Sir Donald Gordon was an entrepreneur, visionary and philanthropist who made an immense contribution to the arts.

The £10 million he generously donated to the Centre is believed to be one of the largest single private donations made to the arts in the UK at that time.

Wales Millennium Centre’s founding Chairman and Life President, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, a close friend of Sir Donald’s, explains how the South African businessman came to invest such a large sum in a brand-new arts centre for Wales.

"Sir Donald Gordon was a very dear friend of mine. I first met him during the 1970s in South Africa.

"His interest in Wales had been sparked by his detailed knowledge of Rorke’s Drift – the Welsh heroism that had been displayed at that battle had impressed and inspired him. Knowing this, I arranged a visit to The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh in Brecon.

"During a dinner, he held some of the Victoria Crosses they keep at the museum – it was an emotional experience which brought him even closer to Wales.

Sir Donald Gordon and Lord Rowe-Beddoe inside the Donald Gordon Theatre during its construction.
Sir Donald Gordon and Lord Rowe-Beddoe inside the Donald Gordon Theatre during its construction.

"Sir Donald was also a rugby fan and I took him to see Wales play in Cardiff on several occasions. I hope that he was able to celebrate South Africa’s brilliant World Cup victory!

"He also loved music and used to sing to my piano accompaniment when we saw each other. He had a box at the Royal Opera House and enjoyed theatre so, when I was trying to raise funds to get the Wales Millennium Centre project off the ground, he was the first person I turned to.

"He built a global insurance business in which property development played its role. He knew a great deal about buildings and was passionate about his work.

"When he saw the finished product of the Wales Millennium Centre for the very first time he was thrilled. He absolutely loved it and continued to do so throughout his life.

"Sir Donald Gordon is a hugely important part of Wales Millennium Centre’s history and without his generous contribution in the early funding stage we might not have been able to secure the massive investment that we needed to build the Centre.

"He leaves behind a fantastic legacy – a world class arts venue - which thousands of people enjoy each week."