GROWING up in Glasgow’s East End, Helen Enright always loved going to the theatre.

“We were a working class family, but our parents often took us to see shows, and my sister was a dancer,” she explains.

“Theatre was just a part of my life. Getting a job in the industry, however, happened almost by accident.”

Helen is Chief Executive Officer of Trafalgar Theatres, who took ownership of the Pavilion one year ago, on April 3, 2023. The Pavilion is one of 16 theatres under her remit.

“I studied English literature and history at Glasgow University and I planned on being a teacher,” she says, smiling. “A careers adviser suggested I’d be more suited to business, and I should do my MBA (Masters of Business Administration).

“There was no way my family could have afforded for me to do that, but someone suggested if I got a job with a big accountancy firm, they could put me through it and I could do it that way. So that’s what I did.”

Glasgow Times: Francie and Josie with the Pavilion dancersFrancie and Josie with the Pavilion dancers (Image: Newsquest)

After qualifying as a chartered accountant with EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in 1984, Helen went on to work in the advertising industry, holding a number of senior finance roles.

A contact at Ambassador Theatre Group (who now own the King’s and Theatre Royal in Glasgow) suggested she applied for the job of financial director, and she joined the company in April 2000, helping to grow the business over the next 16 years.

When founders Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squires left to start up Trafalgar, Helen followed. The acquisition of the Pavilion was a project close to her heart, she reveals.

“I read in the newspaper that the Pavilion owners were thinking of selling, so I got in touch,” she says. “At the time they were exclusive to another party, so it looked like it would not happen.

“I stayed in touch though, just in case, sending the odd email….”

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She adds, laughing: “I was trying not to be a pest. But I was really excited. And then out of the blue, the original deal fell through, and they got in touch to ask if we were still interested. Of course, I said yes.”

The Pavilion, Glasgow’s famous variety theatre, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. 

As a leading music hall and variety theatre, it attracted all of the leading artistes of the time, including Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe and Sarah Bernhardt. A then unknown Charlie Chaplin, Sir Billy Connolly and Lulu have all graced its stage, and its pantomimes have starred many big names, from Dave Willis to The Krankies.

Glasgow Times: The Krankies

Since Trafalgar took over, the challenge for the company, agrees Helen, has been to manage the delicate balance between preserving what audiences already love about the place, but adding something more.

“We have had a really positive response in this first year,” she says.

“Having an actor as famous and as high quality as David Hayman here, for example, with Cyprus Avenue, was a great moment.

“The National Theatre of Scotland are coming here for the first time, with Dear Billy, in May.

“We were part of the Celtic Connections programme, and Glasgow International Comedy Festival reached out to us too– really, the Pavilion should be the natural home for comedy in Glasgow, I feel - so that was incredibly exciting.”

She adds: “The Pavilion has been doing around 190 performances a year but there is capacity for much more than that. Already, we have added a further 75.

“So we’re not going to stop doing things, quite the opposite.”

The Glasgow community has also “really opened its arms” to Trafalgar, says Helen.

“It has felt like a warm welcome,” she adds.

There are no immediate plans to change the interior of the theatre, although Helen admits “a lot of money” will have to be spent behind the scenes.

“Fire inspections, bringing the building up to standard, nothing very glamorous, but all necessary,” she says.

“Eventually, we would like to open up the bar space in the basement, because it is quite restricted. The auditorium is in good condition, though – so many wonderful original features.”

Helen is diplomatic about any rivalry between ATG and Trafalgar.

“The Pavilion, King’s, Theatre Royal, Tron – we all do different things for different audiences,” she explains. “Glasgow is such a vibrant, creative place, there is space for all of us.”

Glasgow Times: Helen Enright outside the Pavilion

The message, one year on, is simple, she says.

“We are open for business,” she says, smiling. “There is a lot of demand for this theatre, and we want to open our doors to everyone, to make this a welcoming place for audiences and artists.”

Sitting in the circle, as scenery is shifted on stage, and cleaners whizz around clearing up after last night’s performance, Helen says she feels at home.

“This is actually my office, when I’m here,” she says, with a laugh. “I enjoy bringing people up to the circle to have a chat. This is where you can see and feel the history and everything going on around you."