Fringe impresario Koren to hand over to daughter

Karen Koren founder and Artistic Director of the Gilded Balloon with daughter Katy Koren. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Karen Koren founder and Artistic Director of the Gilded Balloon with daughter Katy Koren. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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SHE has been one of the biggest personalities and most influential figures on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the past three decades.

But now comedy queen Karen Koren has begun moves to hand over the reins of her Gilded Balloon empire to her daughter.

Katy Koren is being groomed to take over the company her mother launched with a one-room venue in the Cowgate exactly 30 years ago.

The 27-year-old has quit a career in the design industry to help run Gilded Balloon with the veteran impresario, who turned 65 earlier this year.

And they are preparing for an “extended handover” over the next few years, with plans to extend Gilded Balloon’s activities overseas and set up a year-round venue in Edinburgh.

But ahead of a 30th anniversary gala this weekend, Gilded Balloon’s founder insists she will still be involved with the Fringe for years to come, insisting that she has no intention of retiring.

Gilded Balloon helped launch the careers of Tim Minchin, Dylan Moran, Peter Kay and Bill Bailey.

It also launched institutions such as the notorious “Late ‘n’ Live” show and the annual “So You Think You’re Funny” contest.

Gilded Balloon had expanded to more than a dozen venues in the Cowgate when it took on Teviot Row House, its current base, in 2001. Less than 18 months later its original base in the Cowgate was destroyed in a fire.

Katy Koren, who worked in the front of house office and in the bars at the venue as a teenager, has been working in recent years in event management in the design industry. Initially, she will be responsible for all Gilded Balloon marketing and promotional activity.

She said: “I wanted to work in design from the age of around 15 and didn’t want to stay in Edinburgh after I turned 18. I did separate myself from Gilded Balloon a little bit. But about two years into my job, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted my career to go within design. I really enjoyed event management and wanted to do more of it. It’s not too much of a leap.

“I know how great the industry is in Edinburgh. I’ve always thought about running my own business and Gilded Balloon is so close to my heart. It was too good an opportunity to miss.”

Ms Koren’s son, Kristian, a freelance graphic designer, has already been working with Gilded Balloon each summer for the past five years.

She said: “This is all Katy’s idea. I certainly wouldn’t push either of my children into such a dicey and scary profession. I’ve always been very supportive and helpful to performers. I’ve tried to run Gilded Balloon in a kind of family and maternal way.

“My ambition for Katy is to make Gilded Balloon her own and have her own ideas. I’m not going to say to her: ‘You’re not allowed to do this or that’. The industry has changed so much since I started out. It is so tough. I don’t think she realises how tough it is going to be. It’s just about being one step in front.”