Exclusive interview with new Shakespeare Birthplace Trust chief

Tim Cooke

THE Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has appointed a former BBC head of broadcasting for Northern Ireland as its new chief executive.

Tim Cooke, aged 58, takes over from Dr Diana Owen on 1st March next year but is using the intervening time to learn all he needs to know about the trust, its people, buildings, collections, educational curriculum and visitors.

“We have a fabulous inheritance to look after and we are very grateful for the ten years Diana spent as chief executive during her well respected and much loved stewardship of the Shakespeare buildings and their assets.

“I am privileged and thrilled to be taking on this role as it offers a wonderful and deeply meaningful opportunity to work with staff, volunteers, the Board and partners to contribute to a legacy of worldwide and timeless import,”

Mr Cooke told the Herald this week. He has very fond memories of Stratford and Shakespeare and smiled when he recounted that his 87-year-old mother, Ellen, still gets out her Anne Hathaway place mats at Christmas that were bought in Stratford. “Shakespeare drives deep into yourself with his works,” Mr Cooke said.

“He deals with love, jealousy, avarice, murder, the human heart and psychology. When I was studying at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland I particularly enjoyed As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice but it held more resonance because of what was going on around me – I was in a helicopter of life and there was violence and political conflict as we often find in Shakespeare.”

Mr Cooke describes his background as “creating and content”. He is currently director of the Telegraph Museum in Cornwall. Prior to this Tim worked as a museum consultant. Between 2003 and 2014 he was director and chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland.

In that role he led the £18million project to transform the Ulster Museum in Belfast, which won the prestigious Art Fund UK Museum of the Year Prize in 2010. He also oversaw a range of other investment projects in galleries and museum sites.

He has been a representative on the UK-wide National Museums Directors’ Council between 2003 and 2014 and again in 2017. Before entering the museum sector Mr Cooke worked for the BBC for 15 years holding posts in London, the South West of England and Belfast where he served as head of broadcasting in Northern Ireland.

And he is a former Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in the United States.

“I am looking forward to my new challenge as chief executive of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, I’m 100 per cent up for this. I am thrilled to be here because of the subject matter and I’m privileged to have this opportunity — it is a delicious challenge.”

Building on the excellent work undertaken thus far by the trust, the new chief executive says he would like to further develop the local, national and international relationships the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust already enjoys.

“We aim for world class excellence and can achieve this through building partnerships with our audiences and friends alike,” Mr Cooke said.

Mr Cooke is also an avid champion of the trust’s educational programme which goes from strength to strength each year and is accessed by lovers of Shakespeare all over the globe. “We will develop our education curriculum even more.

It will encourage diversity and inclusion and truly feel like a community programme that everyone can be a part of,” he added.

To read our interview with outgoing chief executive Diana Owen click here