Dame Donna Langley-Shamshiri: Universal head hails future of film at investiture

The chairman of film studio Universal has described becoming a dame as “exceeding all expectations”, as she received her honour at Windsor Castle.

Dame Donna Langley-Shamshiri, who oversaw franchises such as the Mamma Mia films, Despicable Me and the Fast & Furious, was joined by England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty, Olympic diver Tom Daley and consumer expert Martin Lewis, among others, as they were recognised by Prince Charles on Tuesday.

Dame Donna, who is chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said that the experience was, “incredible, exceeded all expectations, just really being in this incredible castle and walking through the rooms and seeing all the history.”

Dame Donna Langley Shamshiri with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle
Dame Donna Langley-Shamshiri with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She described meeting the prince as “wonderful”, and said that “he made it feel very comfortable and natural”.

She added: “He was just talking about how the recovery of the production industry has been going on and we actually had the first big Hollywood film start shooting in 2020 again, resume production, with Jurassic World and I’ve met the Prince of Wales at the Bond premiere and we talked a little bit about that at that time, too.”

Discussing the future of cinema against competition from streaming services such as Netflix, Dame Donna said: “We can see that the audience wants to go back to the cinema. Streaming is great and there’s a place in all of our lives, but movies matter most when they get a nice big release in a theatre globally and people all over the world can see them and talk about them, and I just don’t think you can beat that. So I think theatre is around for a while longer.”

When asked about the recent release of the latest film of the Despicable Me franchise, Minions: The Rise Of Gru, Dame Donna expressed joy at the latest viral Tiktok trend of crowds of young people donning suits to watch it at the cinema.

She said: “It’s incredible, and you know, we did nothing to promote that, that was just all organic.

“That was people who grew up with Despicable Me and love the Minions and just were dying – we’d had to hold the film back because of the pandemic for a couple of years – and so they were really excited to go and showing up in the suits and going and doing the TikTok memes and everything. But it’s very good for us because it’s good for the box office.”

Thinking back to a particular film that remains close to her heart, Dame Donna said: “There’s a few but I think, for today, because this is such a fun, joyous day, I’ll just say the Mamma Mia films, the first one in particular was just such a joy to work on and then for it to be such a big success.

“That was a film that I would get emails from people or, you know, an email correspondence, just about how much joy that brought into their lives at a time that they needed it most. And that’s what films do. You know, that’s what films can do, spread joy.”

Oliver Jeffers after being made a MBE at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle
Oliver Jeffers after being made a MBE at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Also among those collecting their honours was the award-winning children’s book writer and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, who picked up an MBE for services to the arts.

The Northern Irish artist said of the experience: “It’s such a wonderful contribution to British society that people are getting honoured for doing good work in fields that might not be generally recognised otherwise.”

He added: “I openly say that I don’t make books for children, I just make books about what it is to be a person.

“Sometimes it’s the simple joy of storytelling, of humour as a deflection to talk about other things, but generally I make books that I feel like any person could enjoy. It just so happens that my sense of humour is shared by a lot of five-year-olds.”