Penelope Lyttelton, Viscountess Cobham

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Penelope, Viscountess Cobham
Penelope, Viscountess Cobham.jpg
Lady Cobham in February 2012
Born Penelope Ann Cooper
(1954-01-02) 2 January 1954 (age 63)
Nationality British
Spouse(s) John Lyttelton, 11th Viscount Cobham (m. 1974–1995)
Partner(s) David Mellor
Parent(s) Roy Cooper

Penelope Ann Lyttelton, Viscountess Cobham, CBE (née Cooper; born 2 January 1954), is a British businesswoman known for her involvement in a number of quangos (an acronym for Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations). She presently serves as Chairwoman of VisitEngland.

Personal life[edit]

Penelope Ann Cooper was educated at St James's School, West Malvern.[1] In 1974, she married John Lyttelton, son of Charles Lyttelton, 10th Viscount Cobham, and heir apparent to the Viscountcy of Cobham. Three years later, upon the death of her father-in-law, the couple became Viscount and Viscountess Cobham. Along with the title came the two-century old Hagley Hall, a mansion in Worcestershire. Lady Cobham proceeded to convert the hall into a conference venue.[2]


Cobham became a special adviser to the heritage minister David Mellor in the newly created Department of National Heritage in 1992.[2][3] In 1994, Cobham said that she had developed a "deep bond" with Mellor; in a separate statement, he announced his decision to divorce his wife Judith because he had become "extremely close" to Cobham and "intend[ed] to remain so".[3] The Cobhams' childless marriage[3] ended in divorce in 1995, with Cobham gaining a £1 million divorce settlement, the couple were no longer on speaking terms, but Cobham retained her title as a divorcée. She and Mellor live in a Georgian house in London, she also owns a farmed estate in Croucheston in Wiltshire.[4]


Cobham has been referred to as the "Quango Queen" because of the high number of trusteeships and directorships she holds in the arts and tourism.[5]

During her marriage, to make enough money to maintain and conserve Hagley Hall, Cobham led a successful corporate entertainment and catering business. Prior to becoming special adviser on tourism and heritage in 1992, she was on the boards of English Tourist Board, English Heritage, the Countryside Commission and Historic Royal Palaces. Cobham later served on the boards of the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Waterways and the London Docklands Development Corporation. For fourteen years, Cobham chaired Britain's largest radio station outside London, Heart West Midlands.[6]

From 2000 until 2009, she chaired the British Casino Association, serving during the passage of the Gambling Act 2005;[6] in that role, she successfully campaigned for the liberalisation of the 35-year-old gambling laws and raised £2.5 million from casino companies for the benefit of addiction and research charities, warning the casinos reluctant to donate that the Government might introduce a permanent levy.[1]

Between 2005 and 2009, Cobham served as Deputy Chairman of VisitBritain; in April 2009, she became Chairman of VisitEngland.[7] Having been reappointed by the minister Hugh Robertson in April 2013, she is expected to serve until April 2017,[7][8] she is currently an adviser to Citi Private Bank and Chairman of the Art Fund Prize.[6]

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to tourism.[9]


  1. ^ a b Mammon (19 October 2003). "Betting on the Lady to win". The Observer. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Roth, Andrew (22 July 2006). "Viscount Cobham". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Pepinster, Catherine (6 November 1994). "David Mellor to divorce". The Independent. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Laville, Sandra (15 June 2001). "Lord Cobham funds his divorce with Christie's sale". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (3 November 2004). "High stakes for the quango queen". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c "Penelope, Viscountess Cobham". VisitBritain. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Chairman – Penelope, Viscountess Cobham". VisitEngland. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Penelope Viscountess Cobham reappointed as Chairman of VisitEngland" (PDF). March 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "No. 60895". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2014. p. b9.