The British Museum is ringing with fire alarms, but its new
communications supremo Carol Homden is unflappable amid the confusion.
She wends a swift path towards a small-scale model of the redeveloped
museum great court, against a tide of hundreds of exit-bound tourists,
churning out museum facts and figures at speed as she goes.
Norman Foster’s stunning great court project - the redevelopment of the
old British Library reading room and its surrounding courtyard, which
will form the heart of the museum in the new millennium - is the reason
Homden’s role has been created.
She acts as an umbrella for a vast array of functions, covering 85
people: from media relations, through public information to exhibition
design and photography. Her task is to promote the pounds 98 million
scheme - London’s first fully-funded ’millennium project’, which opens
in autumn 2000 and is part of a broader revamp including two new
galleries. ’It’s the start of something so exciting I almost cannot tell
you about it,’ she breathes, losing her characteristic business-like
poise for a moment.
Homden is quite clear that she is unphased by her new post, though
whether this stems from genuine self-belief or a convincingly brave face
is hard to tell. She compares the redevelopment of London’s top tourist
attraction to promoting Westminster University’s new pounds 33 million
Harrow campus - one of the challenges she tackled in her previous job as
the university’s marketing and development head.
’The new campus was a transforming experience for the organisation,
releasing a great deal of energy,’ she says. ’The museum is like one of
the university campuses. Managing the marketing and development of a
modern university at the heart of London is directly paralleled by the
This comparison appears belittling of an institution which is a
cornerstone of British intellectual life, but it does make sense.
Homden, herself in possession of a PhD on the plays of David Hare and
well-versed in the language of management consultancy, honed her
communications skills over 12 years at Central London Polytechnic - now
Westminster University - and intends to apply that successful model of
public sector PR to the Bloomsbury giant. As her former boss,
Westminster vice-chancellor Geoffrey Copland says: ’It’s a natural
progression. It’s a demanding job, but she’s got the energy and the
focus to tackle it.’
Homden is certainly not lacking in these two attributes: despite having
only been in the post for two weeks, she talks like a walking
encyclopedia of the British Museum past, present and future, which no
doubt involves evenings of cramming in between tending to her two young
sons - ’the other element of my CV’. The eight-year-old and the
five-year-old have already been dragged along to the museum several
times in the last few weeks.
’We are museum-going people,’ Homden asserts grandly, reeling off the
names of museums she has ’done’. Her husband, Steve Caplin, used to edit
the magazines of the Museums Association. He is now a successful digital
illustrator whose work regularly adorns the features pages of the
national press. Homden and Caplin met on holiday in Torquay in their
teens and have stuck together ever since, even attending East Anglia
University together, before founding an arts magazine in Norwich while
Homden completed her doctorate.
Homden already exudes an air of ownership over her new workplace. This
is characteristic: she literally becomes her workplace. Her emotions
over leaving Westminster are obviously still raw: ’I have many friends
there and will always consider myself its advocate,’ she says with
One can’t help but feel that any institution with Homden as its
advocate will be supremely well served. This is a woman who knows what
she wants and almost always gets it through an enviable mix of gentle
but firm combativeness and oodles of charm and smiles. ’When Carol sets
her sights on something, she can always produce sound arguments,’
1989: Corporate comms director, Polytechnic of Central London
1997: Marketing and development director, Westminster University
1999: Marketing and public affairs director, British Museum