Set and stage designer Es Devlin has been named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to design in the Queen’s New Years Honours list.
With her CBE, Devlin now holds the highest-ranking level of the Order of the British Empire Award. Prior to this, she held the title of Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) which was given to her in 2015.
From Hamlet, to Lady Gaga
Devlin began her career studying literature, before eventually specialising in theatre design. This work includes set design for plays and operas, from Hamlet and Carmen, to Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and Salome.
She is also the mastermind behind touring stages of some of the world’s biggest music artists. Throughout her career, she has worked with the likes of Dua Lipa, U2, Lady Gaga, Adele and many others.
In the last 10 years, Devlin’s work has become internationally recognised. She developed the design for the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony and the Rio 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony – with the former praised as a “a raucous pageant of popular culture”.
Devlin was also the brain behind the UK’s Expo 2020 pavilion. The 20-metre-high cone-like structure is filled with crowd-sourced poetry submitted to Devlin by the British public.
Developing a love for trees
Most recently she has turned her attention to the climate crisis and global politics. Her weapon of choice is trees – and lots of them.
In early 2021, Devlin shirked a centuries-old rule forbidding foliage in the courtyard of London’s Somerset House, instead introducing 400 trees to the space for London Design Biennale. The small forest was developed to help Devlin share information about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Later in the year she embarked on a similar mission, this time bringing 197 trees with her to COP26 in Glasgow. Another small forest, this time the trees were used as the setting for the New York Times’ Climate Hub – a venue that held a series of talks in parallel with the events of the conference.
As for why Devlin has found such an affinity with the medium of trees, she pointed to the symbolic nature of forests when speaking with Design Week last year. With her background in literature and theatre, she knows well how “transformative” forests can be.
“Historically, the forest has always been a place of transformation – whether it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like it, the characters go in, have a moment of change, and leave in a different state to when they entered,” she explained.
Other people recognised by the Queen
Other notable figures honoured from the world of design include Hanif Mohamed Kara, the design director and co-founder of AKT II; landscape designer Dan Pearson; and theatre designer Leslie William Brotherson – who were all given OBEs.
Those more generally involved with the creative industry and arts sector who were also mentioned include founding director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park Peter Edward Murray, who was knighted; National Theatre executive director Lisa Jane Burger, who was awarded a CBE; and Culture Recovery Board member Carol Lake, who was given an OBE for her services to the arts during the Covid-19 pandemic.