I Stopped Traffic with Beckham in His Underpants

Emma Broomfield
14 December 2014

When a lack of finance threatened to bring down the curtain on Richard Dodgson’s dreams of directing theatre, he realised that he had to find a new audience.

“The directing work I wanted to do – theatre performed in unusual spaces – was very hard to come by and funding was always a struggle,” said Dodgson, who trained as an actor with the National Youth Theatre. “So I set out to introduce theatrical elements to commercial events and haven’t looked back.”

From the spare bedroom of his flat in Islington, north London, he launched Timebased Events with just a phone and a small book of contacts. Today he is still in Islington but with a staff of 17, who work on about 60 events a year for clients such as Ralph Lauren and OMEGA.

He grew up one of four children in Weston super-Mare, Somerset. His mother was a teacher-turned-charity-worker, but it was his father, a developer, who gave him his entrepreneurial spirit. “House building and events are quite similar,” he said. “It’s about creating a vision from many components.”

Dodgson attended Cheltenham College. “I ended up with lots of O-Levels but, while I liked academia, my real interest lay with theatre and acting.”

At 16, he became a member of the National Youth Theatre, where contemporaries included Daniel Craig and Tom Hollander, and he took acting jobs during school holidays. After completing his A-Levels at Cheltenham, he spent a year travelling before enrolling at Manchester University to read German and Theatre Studies. There he pursued his passion for directing and mounting performances outside the confines of a theatre.

Everything from a water park to a replica of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin became a stage, but with arts funding scarce, Dodgson knew he needed a change of direction. “I was creating shows in unusual venues and realised that event planning is exactly the same thing.”

Dodgson moved to London and cut his teeth as a freelance consultant for events agencies. His early successes included the launch of the National Lottery in Glasgow and a garden party for Sting where swathes of the musician’s favourite flower were planted to bloom at just the right moment.

When Dodgson set up Timebased in 1996, he had already caught the attention of Selfridges, the department store. One of his earliest events for it featured a performer swimming through a pool of broken glass. Traffic outside the flagship store on London’s Oxford Street was brought to a standstill when David Beckham launched Emporio Armani underwear there in 2009, with a giant poster on the front of the building.

“The biggest criterion I have for events is people asking, ‘Will it make us famous?’ If you have David Beckham in his underwear in front of Selfridges, the answer is yes.”

Buoyed by the early success, Dodgson approached GQ Magazine and asked to manage its first awards ceremony. It was the start of a working relationship with the publisher, Condé Nast, that is still continuing today.

“It’s about making sure that what you deliver the following year is better than the year before. The repeat business is more important than the new business, and people always forget that.”

Dodgson lives in Islington with his wife Katy and three young children, Manrica, Lorimer and Denholm. He owns 100% of Timebased and is not seeking outside investment or to sell. “What would I do with my time? I really enjoy my work and can’t see that changing,” he said.

Events are months in the making and you are handling budgets of up to £1m, so I’m always looking ahead at what our priorities will be in six months or a year.”

Dodgson’s advice for start-ups is to build a range of clients. “Having that solid base of clients across different sectors means we can weather those storms when budgets are going up and down.”

Originally published by The Sunday Times
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