Nigel Newton CBE SHB'69, the Founder and Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, has been honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his outstanding contributions to the publishing industry.
Nigel Newton CBE SHB'69, the Founder and Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, has been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2021 New Year Honours. The royal title conferred by the Queen to people across the United Kingdom who have made distinguished contributions in their field, is the next honor below knighthood.
Under his leadership, the company Mr. Newton founded in 1986 with the help of three other people, has grown into a global publishing house with 750 employees and offices in London, Oxford, New York, Sydney and New Delhi. Bloomsbury publishes 2500 books a year and has introduced readers to a plethora of acclaimed authors, including J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini and William Dalrymple. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, another one of his publications, won the Golden Man Booker Prize as the best novel of the last 50 years. Last year, Mr. Newton received the London Book Fair's Lifetime Achievement Award and became an Honorary Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.
This full-length interview was conducted via email. If you wish to connect with Mr. Newton, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Reflecting on the Commander of the British Empire honor, what does it mean to you?
I was thrilled to receive a CBE in January. It was a surprise when I received an email from the Cabinet Office in 10 Downing Street on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Queen asking if I would accept a CBE — which is one notch below a knighthood — if one were offered to me.
It is nice that the work of all 750 people at Bloomsbury has been recognised for the 34 years of toil since I started the company with the help of three other people in 1986. My colleagues have worked tirelessly during the pandemic when we have been fortunate to experience a huge surge in reading as people trapped in their own homes have turned back to books. We have been lucky about the surge with our profits up 60 percent in the first half of the year, but it is bittersweet as I am always thinking about the huge number of people who have died. This is changing now thankfully due to the brilliant invention of the vaccine and the excellent rollout of the programme.
Briefly describe the original idea behind Bloomsbury — what was your vision and inspiration for opening a publishing house and how has it evolved over the years?
The idea behind Bloomsbury was to start a medium-sized independent publisher of works of excellence and originality at a time when large media conglomerates were taking over many of the great independent literary publishers. We raised venture capital in 1986 and floated on the main London Stock Exchange in 1994. We expanded through organic growth and 26 acquisitions of smaller publishing houses into the global publisher we are today with offices in London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi and Sydney. Our core subject areas are literary fiction, general non-fiction, children's, academic and professional. Publishing Harry Potter helped.
What role did books play in your life growing up?
Books played a hugely important part in my life growing up. I always enjoyed English at Stuart Hall and writing reports on books we were assigned to read. In terms of reading for pleasure, I was very fond of escape stories by allied airmen from German prisoner of war camps in World War II such as The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams and Escape from Colditz by Pat Reid. I also remember my heart being warmed by reading the novel of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang which many people forget was improbably written by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.
What do you think you've carried with you from your time at Stuart Hall?
Firstly, I have carried my friendships from Stuart Hall. The Zoom call with old friends has been one of the upsides of lockdown and I couldn't believe my luck in being on a call two weeks ago with my Stuart Hall 1969 classmates Robert Burnett, Bill MacDonald, Frankie Van Houten, Armand Bengle and Tony Moitoza. Morgan Conolly will join the next call and others are welcome!
I derive great succour from church on Sunday, and that must date back to my time as an altar boy in the Sacred Heart chapel. I remember fondly the jam donuts we were given at breakfast in the cafeteria after serving Mass.
Thirdly, I learned about campaigning at Stuart Hall. Our current affairs teacher Russell Miller gave us a school project to save the two broken down Dutch windmills in Golden Gate Park by Ocean Beach. I was one of our press spokespersons for the campaign and remember being tracked down in Stuart Hall by a reporter from KTVU Channel 2. I have been campaigning all my life ever since, currently working on Cuckmere Haven SOS to shore up the sea defences at one of the most iconic views in Britain, as seen in films of Harry Potter and Atonement. Please visit our website and give generously!
Fourthly and more recently, I have come back into touch in the last four years with Reverend Mother Mardel, known as Be, and have thoroughly enjoyed that. She was a kind Reverend Mother and remains kind to this day, and still with total recall of conversations in 1970.
What are you currently reading?
On the light reading side, I am reading a great novel about a sub organisation for failed spies belonging to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, employers of James Bond, by Mick Herron called Slough House. Books about people who are failures are so much more interesting than those about successful people.
I am also reading the biography of Joe Biden by Evan Osnos, and it is interesting to learn of the difficult life of our new (and Catholic) leader. Finally, I am reading the new sensation by the young adult novelist Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Silver Flames, currently a worldwide bestseller.