How Philippa Poulton is using the power of music to change lives - Robert Poulton Foundation

Philippa Poulton

Philippa Poulton - Credit: Archant

Local opera singer Robert Poulton died tragically in 2013. Now his widow is using the power of music to change lives with the charity that bears his name

When Heathfield man, operatic baritone Robert Poulton, was killed in a tragic road accident, there were many mourners.

Chief among those were Robert’s wife of almost 30 years Philippa and their two sons, Tom and William. Philippa met her Brighton-born husband when they were both students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “He was a very lovely man, he was my best friend,” said Philippa. “He was very handsome and he was very funny. He was extremely kind. He had a reputation for making a rehearsal atmosphere great fun and he was funny at home as well.”

Local people will remember Robert from Glyndebourne but he also sung extensively at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Amsterdam, Maastricht and Adelaide. Robert’s death rocked the opera community and he was remembered in statements from the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne. Philippa was shocked when, just a few days after his death, a Facebook page appeared as a memorial to her husband. But, “the world of opera is very transient so you make many friends along the way and you get very close to people.

“It was very obvious that there wasn’t anywhere for our friends to focus their grief. What came across to me was an overwhelming sense of love and that was the love that Rob had given to them. These people felt very strongly about Rob’s demise. Very, very slowly, throughout the first year of grieving, I knew that there must be something set up to honour his memory.”

Robert was very well-loved locally as well as in the world of international opera. His favourite role, said Philippa, was Falstaff. “He had a wonderful comic twinkle.”

In his youth, Robert was an amateur actor and particularly loved appearing in panto: “He was a brilliant villain, I’m told,” said Philippa. “He was such a lovely, affable, bright guy but he loved playing a baddie.”

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Suggestions flooded in about suitable memorials, but Philippa was determined that any memorial to Rob should enrich the community and bestow the transformative power of singing. She wanted music to change people’s lives.

So she contacted local hospice St Wilfrid’s about establishing a community choir called the Robert Poulton Community Choir. It will be based at the hospice and the foundation will pay for a professional leader, who will be very much a part of the community of the hospice, with the idea being to draw people in who don’t necessarily have a connection with the hospice, but also people who have friends or relatives there, or who know someone who has died there. “The whole idea is that people will go and enjoy themselves, and sing their cares away.”

Secondly, this September Philippa hopes to launch a singing scheme for primary schools, with the aim of sharing some of the joy she and Robert derived from singing. “Hopefully there will be a pilot scheme in Sussex and I am in the process of choosing a school. It is probable that I will be running the scheme myself and then, in 2016, we will employ somebody to run the scheme somewhere in London.”

Since May, the Foundation has raised £16,000, thanks partly to a memorial concert at St John’s Smith featuring friends and colleagues. Things are busy – Philippa is a working mother as well as leading the charity – but perhaps this project keeps a song in her heart. And like her husband’s beautiful voice, that song will enrich the lives of all who hear it.

For information on the Foundation, including details of how to fundraise or donate, go to or contact Philippa at***


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