Meet the WOW Foundation's Founder and Director Jude Kelly CBE

Find out about Jude Kelly and her journey to founding the WOW global movement

By WOW - Women of the World Foundation

Jude Kelly at WOW Bradford (2017) by Karol WyszynskiWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Jude Kelly is the founder of WOW - Women of the World Festival, which celebrates the achievements of women and girls and confront gender injustice across the globe. She started the festival “to ensure there was a high-profile cultural space where hundreds of women’s stories could be shared”.

As one of four daughters, she’d grown up not thinking about gender limitations but at university was told directing wasn’t something women did. One lecturer memorably told her there were only three female directors: “One’s a lesbian, one’s retired and one’s just killed herself — which would you like to be?”

Jude Kelly at WOWWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Rallying on, Kelly went on to have a hugely successful career in theatre. She became South London’s now iconic Battersea Arts Centre’s first ever Artistic Director in 1981, before running the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Talking in a film from 2016, she explained the responsibility towards women she felt then, saying: ”I thought if I don't use this position of power to change or try to change at least to some degree, then I've really squandered the opportunities that were given to me as a girl and as a woman.”

Kelly’s theatre career has seen her direct more than 200 theatre and opera productions, and win multiple awards include two Olivier Awards and a Southbank Award. 

The Southbank Centre

Kelly was the Artistic Director of Southbank Centre in London for 12 years from 2006 to 2018, where she established the WOW Festival in 2010.

Angela Davis at the Royal Festival Hall, Alice Boagey, 2019-03-08, From the collection of: WOW - Women of the World Foundation
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Jude Kelly at WOW Karachi, British Council Pakistan, 2018, From the collection of: WOW - Women of the World Foundation
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WOW Festivals have taken place over the world with speakers including Angela Davis (pictured at WOW London in 2019), Malala Yousafzai, Annie Lennox, Patrick Stewart, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Salma Hayek

Jude Kelly's TED talk Why Women Should Tell the Stories of Humanity

Jude Kelly at WOW Rio (2018-12) by Amanda SoaresWOW - Women of the World Foundation

Kelly’s career has seen her commission and support the work of hundreds of female artists across all genres. Her talk at a 2016 TED conference, Why women Should Tell the Stories of Humanity, has been viewed more than 1.2million times to date.

WOWsers at WOW Perth (2018)WOW - Women of the World Foundation

In 2018, Kelly left Southbank Centre to concentrate on WOW full time, founding The WOW Foundation. The charitable organisation now runs WOW Festivals and events across the globe from its HQ in London. Each festival offers people the chance to experience workshops, performances and hear people stories.

"Humans change through stories and it depends what stories you tell about whom and for whom, I’m interested in propelling forward the idea of a human story as a different set of rights and ideas.”

The Festival now takes place in 30 locations across six continents.

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