Celebrating 150 extraordinary years at the Royal Albert Hall
October 01, 2021
A special celebration
“It was a truly special moment,” Craig Hassall, CEO of Royal Albert Hall, recalls. To celebrate both the July reopening and 150th anniversary, Hassall commissioned a special performance by Grammy-winning composer David Arnold, in collaboration with local community groups. It was the first time the hall had been closed since the dark days of the Blitz and it returned with a bang. ‘A Circle of Sound’, a 10-movement multi-media work took spectators on an exhilarating journey through the hall’s first 150 years, with a line-up including actor Michael Sheen, singer Melanie C and Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline.
© Andy Paradise
The Royal Albert Hall was opened by a grieving Queen Victoria on March 29, 1871, after the recent death of husband Prince Albert. In the century and a half since, it’s seen a legendary roll call of names including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, and Adele — just to name a few. Built following the Prince Consort’s vision of a democratic venue to “promote the arts and sciences to the British masses,” the hall also witnessed Albert Einstein warn a packed audience of the horrors of World War II, and over 20 Suffragette rallies before women won the vote in 1918. It was here that Emmeline Pankhurst announced: “I incite this meeting to rebellion. Be militant each in your own way. I accept the responsibility for everything you do.”
© Marcus Ginns
An integral part of London
“Over the years the Royal Albert Hall went on to host every major cultural and social movement – from the greatest composers of the 19th century, to the counterculture of the ‘60s,” Hassal points out. An “integral part of London’s cultural landscape”, the hall has hosted major UK events including Churchill’s wartime rally cries, Bob Dylan going electric and the Stonewall benefit concerts in the 1990s. But that’s not forgetting the many fun events, such as the Chelsea Arts Club balls, sumo wrestling, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono breaking boundaries in the 1970s.
© Chris Christodoulou
The Royal Albert Hall has also hosted more unusual events, including a performance in 1968 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, titled ‘Alchemical Wedding’, in which a man played a flute while they sat in a big white bag, with members of the audience stripping their clothes in appreciation. More recently, the hall hosted its first Strongman event since 1901, when it had the world’s first body-building competition, judged by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Other major sporting events have included Britain’s first indoor marathon in December 1909 and the first Table Tennis World Championship in January 1938.
© J Collingridge
A digital future
During lockdown in 2021, Niall Horan sang to an empty room in a heartfelt concert that was live-streamed to raise money for charity. It was a huge success, raising £2 million and reaching up to 500,000 fans across 151 countries. While nothing can compare to the live experience, Hassall highlights the importance of embracing virtual alternatives: “We expect to grow the hall’s reach beyond the building itself through digital platforms, following the experience we had during the pandemic,” he says. “The hall will continue hosting generations of artists at the cutting edge of culture, following in their own heroes’ footsteps.”
© Christie Goodwin
Header image courtesy of J Collingridge
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