“People say that the most stressful thing in your life is moving house or getting a divorce. They’re wrong,” says the 72-year-old entrepreneur. “There’s nothing like selling your business to send your blood pressure skyrocketing.”
Hart’s grandfather, Harry Pizer Bloom, set up Bloom Theatres (as it was then called) in 1926. Hart joined the business as a programmer when she was just 18 and took over at the helm in the seventies.
Her first big project was to turn the Rex cinema in Islington into a boutique cinema, called Screen on the Green. The idea was to choose the most accessible Art House films with the best commercial movies. “We were a bit like a book club in that respect, cherry picking the best films for our viewers,” she says.
The “Screen” concept took off. Hart opened Screen on the Hill in Belsize Park in 1977, Screen at Baker Street in 1984, followed by four more cinemas in Surrey and Hampshire.
Hart started thinking about selling up a few years ago, when she hit her seventies.
“Turnover was just shy of £4m, we had over 100 employees on our books and I’d met some truly wonderful people – Michael Palin, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Emma Thompson. It was time to take a step back and see the sky again.”
She “auditioned” four different corporate financiers and says that Livingstone Partners stood out by a mile. “I got the sense that they would take a lot of the weight off my shoulders and make the sale process easy.”
Livingstone gave her a to-do list, outlining all the information they needed – everything from ticket sales and monthly attendances, to three-year accounts and company background. While Hart pulled that information together, Livingstone drew up a hit list of potential purchasers.
It was a long, drawn-out process. “I’ve run a business for 38 years and this is by far the most exasperating thing I’ve had to deal with. We were close to signing a deal with an overseas buyer but they pulled out at the eleventh hour, claiming they didn’t have enough money. I’m not used to that kind of behaviour in business – I think it’s disgusting.”
The business was finally sold to Everyman in March for £6.9m. Everyman was founded by entrepreneur Daniel Brock in 2001 and is backed by a consortium of deep-pocketed investors, including the entrepreneurs behind ASK pizza Sam and Adam Kay, and the Lewis Trust, owners of River Island.
“It’s upsetting that the business isn’t staying in family hands after three generations but you can’t have your cake and eat it. I doubt I’ll struggle to keep myself busy – I’ve already booked three holidays.