Royal Albert Hall. Inside The World's Most Beautiful & Infamous Concert Hall
The Beatles sang about it, Queen Victoria commissioned it (not in that order) and now after almost 150 years Royal Albert Hall is still one of the most spectacular, prestigious concert halls in the world having hosted over 30,000 events from 1871 to …well last night. Originally it was suppose to be called the Centre Hall of Arts and Science but it was changed to Royal Albert Hall by Queen Victoria honouring her late husband who died only six years earlier.
Its past (and present) has hosted a myriad of performers, artists and legends to take its famous stage. From symphonies, rock concerts, opera, boxing, ballet, tennis, political events, award shows, charity events, circuses, film premieres (check out me and my guy Colin Firth at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere), Albert Einstein and they even had the first ever Sumo Wrestling event outside of Japan, EVER!
Just so you know, RAH went all out for the Sumo wrestlers installing extra large showers in the changing rooms and weight-tested toilets. True.
There is so much interesting history and stories about this world famous concert hall I thought I would share a little bit of my behind the scenes tour of one of my favourite places in London and without question the most incredible place I have ever watched a movie. I saw the film Titanic with a full 70 piece orchestra and choir playing the entire film score live. It was magic.
Royal Albert Hall ~ Its Incredible Little Known Facts & Stories
Its Glass Dome Ceiling Is In The Guinness Book Of World Records.
The gigantic glass dome that covers Royal Albert Hall spans over 20,000 square feet and is the largest unsupported glass dome in the world.
Funfact: The ceiling is not physically attached or adhered to the building but rather just sits on top as its weight keeps it in place.
The first year that Royal Albert Hall opened in 1871 it had just 36 shows.
The very first concert was Arthur Sullivan's cantata On Shore and Sea, performed on 1 May 1871.
On average today , it hosts roughly 400 events a year.
The RAH can be rented out privately for 14,000 £ per day. All my friends take note. We could have an awesome sick party in this place.
It seats 5272
It took 4 years to build.
4 Years to clean the terracotta exterior for the 150th
The Prince Albert Memorial across from the Hall took twice as long to build as the Hall
Royal Box Rules
Of course there is a royal box and regardless of whether the Queen is there or not the royal rules must be obeyed. Simple rules like no jeans or leather jackets sure I get… but no dancing?
No Dancing In The Royal Box
As told to me by a staff member at RAH there has been only one notable exception to this no dancing rule in the royal box. Nelson Mandela when visiting Britain in 1996 for a state visit he suggested he would rather have a celebration at Royal Albert Hall with lots of young people than a banquet dinner at the Palace. So the Queen made it so. When Mandela stood up and did his famous “grove move” as Phil Collins was belting it out, The Queen stood up and did the same. Lead to a lot of British dignitaries gasping, ‘Good heavens, The Queen is dancing!’ ” I guess to quote Men Without Hats if you are Nelson Mandela, you can dance if you want to.
Rock Stars and Rock Star Behaviour
So any thoughts of who has played RAH the most times? Well a hint is the photo below. Eric Clapton played his first show at the Hall in 1964 then with The Yardbirds. Since then he has played RAH over 200 times including a Concert For George held in November 2002 to pay tribute to Clapton’s lifelong friend former Beatle Geroge Harrison.
Speaking of Beatles, they only performed Royal Albert Hall twice and once as a warm-up band to….wait for it…. The Rolling Stones. Now that would have been a concert to see. This performance went down in history as that is where Paul McCartney met his future first wife Jane Asher who was covering the event for Radio Times. After the concert the two boy bands all took a photo together on the steps of Royal Albert Hall.
Standing up on those steps behind the Albert Hall in our new gear, the smart trousers, the rolled collar. Up there with the Rolling Stones we were thinking, ‘This is it – London! The Albert Hall! We felt like gods!’.’
Rolling Stones played 3 times.
Second to Clapton, and you would have to be old and British to know this name but coming in at 160 performances at Royal Albert Hall was singer Cliff Richards. Although not a household name in North America Richard’s in the U.K. is the 3rd top selling artist behind The Beatles and Elvis. Who knew?
James Last, German born composer and Big Band leader appeared 90 times between 1973 and 2015 making him the most frequent non-British performer to play The Hall.
One rememberable event was a Pink Floyd concert held June 1969. The band were banned forever after shooting off cannons, nailing things to the stage and having a man in an ape suit mingling amongst the audience (I feel there might be more to that story). However… whoever knew that forever could be severed as in 2006, Pink Floyd guitarist, David Gilmour performed at the Hall as part of his On An Island Tour. Guess he was forgiven or maybe he just blamed ex band mate Roger Waters.
More RAH Trivia…
The band The Killers recorded their first live album, Live from the Royal Albert Hall in July 2009.
The Beatles’ song A Day In The Life received an incensed letter from Royal Albert Hall’s CEO, claiming amongst other things that their song tarnished the venue’s reputation, siting “the wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium. (haha)
I read the news today, oh boy
four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
and though the holes were rather small
they had to count them all
now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall
I'd love to turn you on.
Other songs to reference Royal Albert Hall include, “Shame” by Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow, “Session Man” by the Kinks and a British World War ll ditty called “Hitler Has One Ball”. I wonder if the CEO too sent a letter talking about this song tarnishing its reputation suggesting they are harbouring a dictator’s testicle?
Hitler has only got one ball
The other is in the Albert Hall
His mother, the dirty bugger
Cut it off when he was small
During WW1 & WW2 Royal Albert Hall Was Used As A Landmark For War Pilots
Since the Royal Albert Hall had such an eye-catching roof, enemy pilots used to look out for it to reorient themselves while bombing London. During the war, the roof was painted black and it was struck by bombs a few times – while some of its glass shattered it remained mostly undamaged.
The Mushroom Ceiling
Before the 1960’s Royal Albert Hall had been also famous for lousy acoustics. Artists and composers alike complaining they could hear themselves twice with the echo and delay being so bad.. So to solve this problem they brought in 135 fibreglass acoustic diffusers that look like upside-down mushrooms thus giving it its nickname of Mushroom Ceiling. Today they have been cut down to 85.
Funfact: Each year they clean out about 50 pounds of dust which is mostly made up of human skin.
The Royal Albert Hall’s Organ Cost £8,000 ~ Its Restoration Cost £1,500,000
The incredible organ (largest in the UK) was designed and built by Henry Willis in 14 months and was originally powered by two steam engines. There are a total of 9,999 pipes.
Festival of Remembrance
Each year the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday the Legion organizes The Festival of Remembrance where they release approximately 1,000,00 tissue paper poppies silently from the ceiling.
And there you have it, a little bit of fun and fact about one of my favourite places in London, Royal Albert Hall. And speaking of favourite as promised, me and Colin walking the Red Carpet at Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way. We look really good together, don’t we? There is only one correct answer to that question, damn straight we do.