Who bailed out the Royal Institution?

If it wasn’t dear old Queen Brenda herself, an individual or persons unknown has donated £4.4m to the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The Ri is a scientific education, outreach and research charity that has long being living beyond its means, and was looking to raise up to £60m from the sale of its swanky Mayfair headquarters. This melodramatic threat prompted a hue and cry from the great and the good who forecast the downfall of civilisation and empire should the Ri go under. Scholars and celebrities demanded that something be done to save the institution.

Now I would happy to see the Ri don a hair shirt and reinvent itself, possibly moving out of London into more modest accommodation. Even better for the institution to become peripatetic, making use of its brand and experience to stage inspiring lectures and other events throughout the British Isles. The windfall announced last week has brought the Ri a stay of execution, but that is all. As its finance committee chairman Martin Knight says…

“Some people might say we’ve been saved. We’ve not been saved, we’ve merely staved off the evil day.”

I certainly didn’t dip into my own pocket to help the Ri, so who did? Fingers will be pointed in turn at wealthy individual philanthropists, but my sources tell me that the dosh came from a consortium of unpaid science communication interns with wealthy parents. That, and a bit of marketing come arm-twisting courtesy of Professor Sir Brian Cox OBE. It’s amazing!