Deborah Bull has enjoyed a thirty-five year career spanning across arts and cuture, the media and higher education. Starting her professional life as a dancer with The Royal Ballet, she went on to become Creative Director of the Royal Opera House and then joined King's College London as director of Cultural partnerships before being promoted to Vice-President & Vice Principal (London) She has written and presented a wide range of programmes across both television and radio and authored four books. Following a debut speech at the Oxford Union in 1996, she is much in demand as a speaker, writer and commentator on the arts.
Alongside this, she has served on the boards of Arts Council England, the BBC and the Arts & Humanities Research Council. In 2018 she was elevated to the Peerage and sits on the cross benches of the House of Lords as Baroness Bull.
Career history: dance and The Royal Ballet
Deborah Bull studied dance from the age of seven, first locally, and then, on the recommendation of her teacher, at the Royal Ballet School. In 1980, she won the Prix de Lausanne, the prestigious international ballet competition.
She joined The Royal Ballet in 1981, after touring with the company as a student during the previous summer. She was promoted through the ranks and became a Principal in 1992, following her performance in the role of Gamzatti in La Bayadère at the company's opening night in Japan.
During her twenty years with The Royal Ballet, she danced a wide range of work throughout the repertoire and toured extensively: Japan, China, Korea, North America, Norway, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Australia, Canada and more. She danced the leading roles in many of the classics - Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Kitri in Don Quixote - and created roles for Ashley Page, David Bintley, Michael Corder, Emma Diamond, Wayne McGregor, Glen Tetley and Twyla Tharp. She received particular praise for her performances in the works of George Balanchine and William Forsythe. In 1995 Forsythe staged for her the first performance in this country of his ballet Steptext, for which she earned a 1996 Olivier Award nomination in the 'Outstanding Achievement In Dance' category. She was named as 1996 Dancer of the Year by both The Sunday Express and The Independent on Sunday, who praised her work both on and off the stage.
Away from The Royal Ballet, she toured Italy, North America and Canada with Wayne Eagling's group, Stars of The Royal Ballet, and was invited to join Irek Mukhamedov for the debut performances of his company Irek Mukhamedov and Friends in 1992. She danced at the 1993 and 1995 Harrogate International Festival, and in April 1996 was invited to perform in the first Diamonds of World Ballet Gala at the Kremlin Palace, Moscow. She has toured Japan with Tetsuya Kumakawa and in the summers of 1994 and 1995 she produced, staged and starred in An Evening of British Ballet at the Sintra Festival in Portugal. In March 2001, she was invited to star in the triple bill Nijinsky Ritrovato at the Rome Opera House, dancing the Chosen Maiden in Rite of Spring and alongside Carla Fracci in Jeux, a performance she repeated in 2003.
Career history: Royal Opera House
During her penultimate season with The Royal Ballet, in 1999, she founded the Artists' Development Initiative (ADI) at the Royal Opera House, a programme designed to open up the resources and expertise within the theatre to small-scale companies and independent artists. Over its first two years, ADI worked with over 250 artists from outside the Royal Opera House and facilitated collaborations across art forms and between independent choreographers and classical dancers. ADI shared the 2001 Time Out Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance with Wayne McGregor for Symbiont(s), premiered in the Clore Studio Upstairs in June 2000.
She retired from The Royal Ballet to take up a new position at the Royal Opera House in January 2002, as Creative Director, ROH2, devising and implementing strategies for developing new art, new artists and new audiences and establishing ROH2 and the Linbury Studio Theatre as a locus for innovation, risk, creativity and collaboration. Over the course of the next decade, ROH2's award winning programme would attract audiences of over 250,000 to ROH, with 250 new productions and 66 world premieres; structured development programmes for associate artists in opera and dance; the ground breaking annual Deloitte Ignite festival; and performances On the Road in the North West and East regions. In 2008, she was appointed Creative Director of the Royal Opera House, with a broad remit including the annual Summer Big Screens and ROH Collections, the theatre's extensive archives. In 2012, she led on the ROH's Olympic programming, commissioning and installing Yinka Shonibare MBE's Globe Head Ballerina on the façade of the ROH, producing a gala performance for the International Olympic Committee's Opening Ceremony and developing and producing The Olympic Journey in collaboration with BP and The IOC Olympic Museum in Lausanne.
Career history: King's College London
Deborah Bull joined King's College London in 2012 to provide leadership across the university to extend its partnerships with the cultural sector. In this role, she has established King's as a world leader in cultural engagement, developing partnerships with a wide range of artists and cultural organisations that enable King's research, education and service ambitions while at the same time offering benefits to the cultural sector. These collaborations add distinctiveness to King's and support the university in delivering world class education, an exceptional student experience and research that drives innovation, creates impact and engages the broadest possible public, in London and beyond.
In 2015, she took on responsibiity for developing the university's strategy for London – one of five priorities in King's Vision to 2029. The strategy sets out how the university will draw London into King's and King's into London, maximising the potential of its location in the heart of the capital to create new opportunities for staff, students and alumni while responding to and meeting the needs of London and Londoners. In 2018, she became Vice-President & Vice Principal for London.
Career history: writing and speaking
Following an appearance at the Oxford Union in 1996, Deborah Bull has developed a reputation as a writer and commentator on the arts. Her address at the Oxford Union, opposing the motion 'This house believes the National Lottery gives too much support to the elitist arts', was described by Lord Gowrie, her debating partner, as 'the best speech I have heard on the Arts in 30 years'. The motion was heavily defeated, a triumph which the Evening Standard attributed largely to 'the eloquence of a ballerina, unaccustomed to public speaking', describing her speech as 'cogently argued and delivered with generosity of spirit'. In October 1996 she was invited by Lord Gowrie to deliver the third Arts Council Annual Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts, From Private Patronage to Public Purse. Speaking engagements since then include the Royal Institution (on the dancer's brain), DCMS Creativity Conference, Conservative Arts Task Force, Adveq AGM (Zurich), British Assocation of Arts Festivals as well as Arts Council Platforms at the annual Party Conferences. In 2014 she was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos to speak about the impact of the arts on key global issues such as health and wellbeing, security, the economy and ageing.
As a writer, Deborah Bull has published four books. Her first, The Vitality Plan, (Dorling Kindersley, January 1998) built on a passion for health and fitness developed during her dance career, offering the facts about nutrition and exploding some common myths. It was published simultaneously in the United States as Totally Fit, and has since been translated into seven different languages. Dancing Away (Methuen, October 1998) is a diary of The Royal Ballet's first year 'on the road', as the Royal Opera House underwent its extensive redevelopment in a climate of controversy and political change. To mark publication, Deborah was commissioned to read five extracts from the book on BBC Radio 4. Dancing Away was described by The Spectator as 'arguably the most amusing and fascinating dance book ever published'. The Faber Guide to Classical Ballets, jointly with Luke Jennings, was published in 2005. Her second book for Faber, The Everyday Dancer, was published in October 2011. This vivid portrait of the dancer's every day reveals the arc of a dancing career, from first steps to final curtain.
In addition, she has contributed articles to The Times, The Telegraph, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Classic FM Magazine, New Statesman, Red, Ritz and The Spectator, and reviewed for The Telegraph, The Literary Review and several dance magazines. From 1999-2001 she wrote a regular column, Private View, for The Telegraph.
Career history: television and Radio
Her first programme for television, Dance Ballerina, Dance, was screened at Christmas 1999 as part of BBC 2's Dance Night, an evening devoted entirely to dance which she co-presented along with the comedian Alexei Sayle. Travels With My Tutu – a four part BBC2 series in which she explored breakdance, jive, belly dance and tango – was screened over Christmas 2000 and attracted record audiences. She has presented live on BBC2 from the Royal Opera House (Coppelia and The Nutcracker) and from Sadler's Wells (Rambert Dance Company), as well as a live Proms performance on BBC1. In June 2001, she presented the Eurovision Young Dancer competition, broadcast live to 18 European nations as well as on BBC2. Her three part, award-winning series for BBC2 – The Dancer's Body – was screened in September and October 2002. In 2014, her documentary for Sky Arts - Dancing for Russia - was accompanied by a six part radio series, Classic FM goes to the Ballet. In the summers of 2015, 2016 and 2017 she presented a series of live conversations from the Endinburgh International Festival for BBC Arts, featuring Sylvie Guillem, Juliette Binoche and Marin Alsop, Meow Meow, Mark-Anthony Turnage and John Tiffany.
She has made several programmes for BBC Radios 3 and 4 including Breaking the Law and Law in Order, A Dance Through Time, Hothouse Kids, After I Was Gorgeous, Dance for your Life, Deborah Bull's Dance Nation and is a regular contributor to Saturday Review.
Career history: public service
Deborah Bull was a member of Arts Council England from 1998–2005, a Governor of the BBC from 2003-2006, and has served on the boards of both South Bank Centre and Random Dance. In 2012, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, appointed her to the Arts and Humanities Research Council's governing body. In 2015, she was appointed to the role of Vice President, Cultural Development, at the British Science Association. She is a patron of the National Osteoporosis Society, Foundation for Community Dance and Escape Artists (a theatre company of paroled and ex-prisoners), sits on the Board of the Prix de Lausanne and is Honorary President of Voices of British Ballet. She was a judge for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by Derby University (1998), Sheffield Hallam University (2001), the Open University (2005) and Kent University (2010) and Lincoln University (2017) and was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1998 Queen's Birthday Honours.
In 2018, she was elevated to the Peerage and sits on the cross benches of the House of Lords as Baroness BULL, of Aldwych in the City of Westminster. She gave her Maiden speech on September 6th 2018 in a debate on Careers Education for Students.