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Lincolnshire architect puts his mark on RA gallery

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A Lincolnshire architect, now based in the Bahamas, is to have a gallery at the Royal Academy named after him following an undisclosed donation he has made to the institution.

'It's the kind of thing I never dreamed I would be able to do,' John Roberts said following last week's announcement, explaining how when he started his practice in 1953, he travelled to work on his bike, borrowing his father's car when he had to see clients.

Although the size of his donation is not public - a gift of £1 million was sufficient to get a gallery named after an American benefactor - Roberts describes his gift as 'substantial'. He didn't get that rich just through practising architecture. 'I have always done other things,' he said. 'I have always been an entrepreneur. I started from an early age - I made children's toys and sold them from age 12.'

His architectural career has not been insignificant, however. His office employed 50 during Roberts' largest project - the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, completed in 1986. Although he directed the entire project from Lincoln, Roberts employed a staff of 64 in Saudi, and when the price of oil plummeted and they weren't paid for a year, he had to support them.

Roberts has a long-term interest in art, dating from 1953 when he sat next to Sir Hugh Casson on a flight from Paris, and he describes himself as 'an impulse buyer of art'. Another interest was shared at the party at the ra last week, with Sir Norman Foster officiating. 'We are both pilots,' said Roberts. 'I see him in my pedal pusher.' Flying is his greatest joy: 'I get totally absorbed.'

Now Roberts' son Jonathan has taken over the practice, as he is living in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. It is evidently a comfortable life, but, 'If I want to buy a radio I still want to get £2.50 off it.'

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