One of Birmingham’s greatest arts philanthropists confides a secret when he says: “It’s really selfish of me to give my money away like this.”

What David Lloyd – the accountant, not the tennis player and health club owner – means is that he is indulging in his love of dance when he sponsors Birmingham Royal Ballet, because it gives him unprecedented access to the creative process.

But it’s hardly selfish of him to contribute to the survival of BRB, to which he has donated more than £500,000 over 18 years.

Altogether the retired Birmingham businessman has given more than £1 million to UK dance companies, but his home city company has had the lion’s share.

He grew up in Handsworth Wood enjoying the work of visiting ballet companies, especially Sadler’s Wells. When it moved to Birmingham and became the BRB in 1990, he was “thrilled to bits”. He became a Friend or supporter of the company but then, in 1995, he decided to go much further.

David, 70, decided to sponsor Sir Peter Wright’s final production to the tune of £150,000.

Coppelia is now celebrating its 18th birthday by being performed during the BRB’s summer season at the Birmingham Hippodrome – and David has been fortunate enough to watch its creation from the start.

“It was Sir Peter’s last production before he retired, so it had all the makings of something a bit special, that he would go out on an artistic high,” remembers David.

“I thought it would be rather fun to get involved. The deal was unprecedented. For £150,000, I said I wanted to watch the production evolving, from the drawing board through rehearsals to the stage.

“They had a long think about it, as they were concerned that I might start interfering. As if I would have the nerve to tell Sir Peter what to do!

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia
 

“They agreed and it was a fascinating experience, to see all aspects of how a show is put together, from the costumes and the lighting to the sets. I even spent one day helping to paint the scenery, though I think they’ve stuck some flowers in front of my bit.

“The experience of being the only one watching in studio rehearsals is priceless and something I still enjoy. I can just wander into any studio and the company are relaxed about it.

“This Coppelia is a lovely production and Sir Peter’s successor, David Bintley, has taken the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“I love all the performing arts but ballet is my favourite – it’s such a graceful art form. I was overawed and amazed when I saw my first ballet. Some 18 years ago, Lesley Collier of the Royal Ballet said to me ‘You will have to stop putting us dancers on pedestals, we are just ordinary people’. But they are not, they are extraordinary.

“I like to feel I am contributing to the cultural life of the city, but it’s really rather selfish and self-indulgent of me. I don’t have a family, which makes a big difference – I don’t have any obligations or responsibilities in that way. I have a niece and nephew but they have long ago given up hope of inheriting anything, and anyway my sister said it would be better if I spent all my money while I was alive.

“This is how I choose to spend what I have earned, rather than on luxury yachts or whatever, which I’m not keen on.

“Actually there’s not that much money left, but don’t tell the BRB!” he laughs.

David, a former Bromsgrove School pupil who lives in Edgbaston, made his money by setting up in business as a chartered accountant.

“Though in my dreams I am a ballet dancer,” he smiles.

“I found a niche in the market by becoming a part-time financial director for several companies who couldn’t afford a full-time one.”

David also sponsored the 2010 production of Cinderella, as he thought “it would be nice for Birmingham to have its own Cinderella”. And though BRB is closest to his heart, he has also sponsored The Snow Queen by the English National Ballet and Peter Pan by the Northern Ballet.

“I don’t want to brag, but I am known by everyone in the ballet world now,” he points out.

Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppelius in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia
Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppelius in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia
 

“I’m involved in a few other companies, I’m patron of a dance school and have sponsored the prizes for international dance competitions.

“The corporates have dropped right out now and companies rely more and more on individuals, and, increasingly, groups of individuals – there aren’t many people around like me. It might be easier to raise £150,000 from 100 people paying £1,500 each rather than one person, though they can’t be granted the same access I have or it would be chaos.

“What I give might not seem a lot of money compared with the Sainsbury’s of the sponsorship world, but it is a lot for me. I feel like I’ve got my money’s worth, though. It’s been a great pleasure and extremely fulfilling.”

* Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Coppelia at the Hippodrome from June 4-8 and Giselle from June 19-22. For tickets call 0844 338 5000 or visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com

Why donors are vital to ballet            

Donors like David Lloyd are vital to the survival of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Public funding for the company accounted for 72 per cent of its turnover in 2009 but has now fallen to 62 per cent with further cuts to come. Grants from Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council have been reduced by more than £1 million a year.

Fundraising now accounts for 11 per cent of BRB’s £13 million turnover. The income breaks down as 55 per cent from major gifts and legacies, 22 per cent from individual giving, 18 per cent from charitable trusts and foundations, three per cent from Friends and just two per cent from business sponsorship.

BRB has 2,500 donors and Friends, who give at a range of levels from as little as £30 a year. That brings priority booking, discounts on tickets and access to rehearsals.

For an annual donation of between £1,000 and £5,000, donors can join The Dancers’ Circle, which gives further access to the artists.

The Director’s Appeal is to help fund the £800,000 needed to put on a new ballet like Aladdin, and membership costs from £150.

BRB chief executive Christopher Barron says: “Individual donors are increasingly important to our funding.

“In the last few years we have reorganised our development department so that we major on individual giving. The balance has shifted towards that and away from public and corporate funding.

BRB chief executive Christopher Barron
BRB chief executive Christopher Barron
 

“Substantial sponsorship from the corporate market has just about gone. It’s perhaps surprising that we’ve never had much from businesses in Birmingham, considering its industrial heritage. The last big donation we received was from Powergen in 1997.

“The loyalty that has built up among our supporters is fantastic. But we also have to make donating attractive and give something in return, and we’re lucky that we have a great company of dancers willing to help in that area, to attend receptions and let people watch them rehearse. 

“We’re working with a number of generous individuals like David Lloyd, who give hundreds of thousands of pounds, and important endowments like donations from the Cadbury family.

 “We also need to look to London for money, as that’s where 90 per cent of arts fundraising takes place.

Our visits to the London Coliseum and Sadler’s Wells Theatre are very important for people to get to know us. 

“We are also increasingly relying on legacy donations. Half of the cost of Cinderella was raised from one kind person thinking of us in their will.”

BRB’s Development Director Geoff Sweeney said: “Without philanthropic support from our audiences and those who share our vision that the arts enrich our community and promote our great city across the world, our activities will simply not be possible in the future.”

Latest figures from the charity Arts & Business show that total private donations for the arts in England rose 7.6% to £660m in 2012, but donations dropped outside London.

Organisations in London saw their total rise from £488m to £539m, but donations outside London dropped from £125m to £121m.

Arts & Business director Philip Spedding said:  “There is a danger of an almost perfect storm of public sector cuts, private sector money not being there to make a financial difference, and challenges in generating income from the public.

“So it is a worrying time for arts organisations outside London. Those that will get through are those that will think imaginatively and creatively.”