Day 23 of 80 — Royal Albert Hall

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 23 : Royal Albert Hall

South of Hyde Park, near Kensington and its museums, is one of London’s most stunning venues : the Royal Albert Hall. Named in memory of Queen Victoria’s soulmate, Prince Albert, the Hall opened in 1871. Twenty years after the Prince’s “Great Exhibition”, ten years after his death ; exactly 150 years ago.

Over this century and a half, the Hall has seen everything, from classical music to rock ‘n’ roll, from ballet to award ceremonies, from film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment to boxing matches. Its main auditorium is extremely versatile, with a very flexible layout that can adapt to the specific needs of any of those events. From Shirley Bassey to Muhammad Ali via Eric Clapton, famous figures have walked the Royal Albert Hall stage for decades, giving it a unique, breathtaking aura.

My first gig at the RAH was a spur of the moment occasion : Crosby, Stills & Nash were in town and, after a relatively tough week as a new Londoner, I decided to treat myself. I got there on the bus (number 9, I recall), bought a second-hand ticket from some punter on the door, and went in. I was on the second balcony, all the way up. I climbed the stunning red-carpeted stairs, admiring as I walked up the many photos that decorated each corridor, reminding visitors of the Hall’s remarkable history, and I sat quietly in my seat. The woman next to me turned, had a good look at me and asked “aren’t you a bit young to be a CSN fan ?”.

The gig started, magical, beautiful. Suddenly all the troubles of these first few weeks across the channel seemed to go away.

I fell in love that night, with that majestuous building. I have been going back there as often as I can since ; I saw a wonderful Al Stewart concert there, even worked in the hall’s hospitality department for a while, serving drinks to rich people in boxes for £8 an hour, and for a chance to freely walk the corridors of this most beloved building. So if you ever are in South West London, attracted by the French bakeries or by Albertopolis‘s museums, make sure you say hello to the Royal Albert Hall from me.

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