The media macher who wouldn’t talk
Kimberly Quinn, new JCC fundraising chief, has not given an interview since she was a front-page story. Is that why she wouldn’t answer Alex Kasriel’s questions?
WHEN THE J e w i s h Community Cent r e f o r L o n d o n o f f e r e d t h e J C an interview with its new development director, Kimberly Quinn, it was a chance to find out what made the new chief fundraiser for Dame Vivien Duffield’s brainchild tick. Or so we thought.
Quinn is well versed in the ways of the media. She is the former publisher of The Spectator magazine and ex-marketing director of Vanity Fair and Glamour publisher Conde Nast.
Her second husband Stephen Quinn is managing editor of Conde Nast’s Vogue and GQ magazines. Together they have been feted by the gossip columns as a “power couple” in the publishing industry.
We were told in advance that there would be at least two other people in attendance in the conservatorystyle meeting room at the JCC offices in Hampstead, North-West London, where the interview was booked. Perhaps there was a concern, however misplaced, that this — her first interview since the press exposed her relationship with former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who fathered her child — would become unduly personal.
But it was only when our photographer tried to take Quinn’s photo, and she insisted that she would only be pictured with her fellow team members — Juliet Simmons, the artistic director, and Katherine Sells, the project director — that it became obvious that the promised interview with her was not going to be a simple matter.
Quinn, 47, who was born Kimberly Solomon in Los Angeles, was comfortable for the first few minutes of the conversation, talking about why she accepted the post at the JCC.
“I wasn’t particularly looking for a job but the JCC spoke to me about this role,” she said. “I have been on the organisation’s board before, I was out of the country for a year or so, and being American I was familiar with the JCC’s ethos and how the JCC works. When I studied at Vassar University in New York, I went to the 92nd Street Y [Manhattan’s JCC]. And when I was little I went to the LA JCC.”
But sensing that the line of enquiry was being directed solely at her — and not her JCC colleagues — she suggested that the questions should be shared around equally. After all, she stressed, the story was about all of them and the JCC project.
Quinn was happy to contribute to the general conversation about the JCC’s future, and was particularly careful to quote her colleagues’ thoughts and ideas.
“I go to the Wigmore Hall once a week,” she said. “I need not be thinking I want to hear a particular string quartet because I know the quality will be good. That’s how it should be at the JCC. There’ll be a nursery school, there’ll be a fitness facility and a kitchen; that is what will make it exciting. Juliet [Simmons] says it’s not just building a building, it’s building a community. Katherine [Sells] says the space should be like piazza. Although I’m not sure if it will as wonderful as the Piazza del Campo in Sienna…”
She talked about how the Chinese community integrated with the Jewish community in San Francisco after the city’s JCC opened a kosher vegetarian café.
“This is the thing that has created an interaction that wasn’t there before,” she said.
It was as if Quinn were on a non-stop talking offensive to avoid the topic of conversation straying from the party line. She again instructed that more questions should be posed to her colleagues.
It was time to point out, politely, that the interview we had been promised was not with her colleagues, but with her — someone who, given her new profile in the community and her previous coverage in the media, would justifiably interest readers.
Quinn then suggested that the interview could be terminated if it was not what the JC was looking for. The moment served to clear the air. The interview carried on.
Quinn was then prepared to talk a little about her own life, including her Jewish identity. She was born to the wealthy Jewish businessman Marvin Solomon and his actress wife Lugene Sanders. She says she went to synagogue and Jewish folk-dancing with friends on Friday evenings. She even talked about her recent family Seder in which the children dressed up and acted out the Passover story.
“We represent different levels of Judaism in the community. I’m culturally Jewish. I came from a mixed marriage,” she said, giving a rare insight into her personal life... before reverting to corporate JCC mode.
“I really love that about this project,” she continued. “It really makes people look back and think about your background. It’s really all right for everybody whether you’re completely Jewish or not at all.”
Naturally, she had high praise for Dame Vivien Duffield, the founder of the JCC in London.
“She has been a great guide and aid to me in the project in my first few weeks. She’s universally loved, so it makes what you’re doing a lot easier,” she said.
And then the conversation was back to praising the JCC fulsomely, with an eyebrow-raising space-travel analogy.
“It’s kind of like a rocket,” said Quinn. “Juliet is the controls, Katherine is the structure and I’m the fuel. We’re all strapped in and blast-off is coming. We have a strong, professional team and that is what makes an organisation great.”
When asked what she personally would bring to the team, she said: “I have very good contacts, including of course [former Spectator editor and now Mayor of London] Boris Johnson. He’s a good guy. He’s always been supportive of the Jewish community.”
Another aspect Quinn is particularly happy about is working in an all-woman team. “I worked on all-women teams at Vogue House for years,” she said. “You can say: ‘…proceeds to talk in a detailed way about spreadsheets and targets…’ before dropping in ‘I like your shoes’ and continuing in the same vein thereafter, and it is quite normal.”
Quinn resigned from the board of the JCC in 2004 just before news of her affair with Blunkett broke in the media.
She had remained a close supporter of the project and was happy to accept the invitation of JCC chief executive Nick Viner to rejoin, after having previously worked as a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital and The Royal Court Theatre in London.
Quinn now has to raise two-thirds of the money required to fund the building of the proposed JCC headquarters in North London.
She says she will do that by “getting information on the project out to as many people as frequently and articulately and enthusiastically as possible”.
As for her telling her own story, enthusiasm and articulacy were conspicuously lacking.
Kimberly Quinn, the new JCC fundraising chief: “I’m culturally Jewish. We represent different levels of Judaism in the community”