There has to be a reason the Royal Albert Hall still looks this good after 150 years. Constant investment to not only maintain the Grade I listed building, but to keep it state-of-the-art, is one reason, but there’s more to it. An ineffable aura surrounds the Hall. You can’t see it, but you can feel it. Everyone who walks inside, from audiences to artists to crews, says the same thing: they’re in utter awe.
While many features make the Royal Albert Hall, among the world’s most iconic buildings, stand out, CAA’s Emma Banks believes its prestige may have to do with the fact that it was built out of love – literally.
When Queen Victoria of England laid the foundation stone in 1867, she dedicated the building to her late husband, Prince Albert, who had passed away six years earlier. “It is my wish that this Hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences,” she was recorded saying.
“Most venues are built for commercial reasons,” Banks says. “They’re not built as a monument to somebody by someone who really loved you.”
Today, the foundation stone rests beneath K stalls, row 11, seat 87 in the main auditorium. The Queen was rarely seen in public after the stone was laid, but made a rare appearance at the Hall’s opening ceremony on March 29, 1871, where she was too overcome with emotion to speak.
What would Queen Victoria have said that day if someone had told her that over the course of the next 150 years, the Royal Albert Hall would develop into one of the most important centers for culture, education and charity the world has ever seen? Would she have considered the Chelsea Arts Club Balls that took place throughout the 20th century scandalous? How would she have reacted to the rock and roll crowd that stormed the building when the Rolling Stones and the Beatles shared a stage for the first time at The Great Pop Prom of 1963? Only one thing seems certain: with the variety of events the Royal Albert Hall puts on each year, there’s bound to be something for everybody – and, judging by her current majesty’s regular visits, even for a Queen of England.
“I think that speaks to the venue,” says UK industry veteran promoter and manager Paul Crockford. “One day you can have a boxing match in it, the next day it can be Bill Bailey’s Guide to the Orchestra, the next day can be Eric Clapton, the next day you can run into five shows with the Teenage Cancer Trust, then it’s Swan Lake and then you’ve got three weeks of Cirque du Soleil. It’s just incredibly versatile as well as being unique.”
And, Crockford adds, “Everybody uses the word ‘unique,’ rather they throw it around, but there is no other venue like it in the world. I wish there was. I would be happy to say it stands head and shoulders above every other building in the world.”
Mark Knopfler, one of Crockford’s clients, would happily play Albert Hall-style venues anywhere in the world.
“He loves that,” Crockford explains. “The enveloping of the circular, especially when you’re selling seats behind in the choir stalls, it’s a really unusual experience. It’s a bit like playing in the round without playing in the round.”
Crockford knows what he’s talking about. He’s been at the Hall as a fan, a promoter and an artist manager.
“And I’ve actually been on stage, because when Mark Knopfler tours, I introduce the band,” he says. “To be able to walk out on the Albert Hall stage in front of 4,000 people is such a buzz. It gave me a real insight into what it must be like if people are there to see you, the adrenaline rush you get as a performer. It must be mind boggling.”
Knopfler is a regular at the Hall. His last two performances there, according to Pollstar box office data, took place May 21-22, 2019, selling out all available 8,837 tickets and grossing $807,742. His highest Hall box office report in Pollstar’s records – and second-highest of his career at any venue – dates back to 2013, when he played a six-show residency from May 27 to June 1, selling out 26,710 tickets and bringing in $1.7 million.
“It’s hard to make money at the Hall, the Albert Hall is expensive to run,” Crockford says. “It’s different if you’re Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton, if you’re charging 150 quid (USD $210) a ticket. But if you’re a more modest artist and you’re charging your fans 40 or 50 or whatever, it’s hard to make money. So, it becomes an emotional play, a bucket list show.”
But people don’t really mind, according to Crockford. “It is a very glamorous venue, it does have a premium cache,” he says. “I’m finding that people will pay more to go there. It must be one of the few venues in the world where, if people have a choice between going there and anywhere else, they’ll vote with their feet and wallets to go to the Hall, because it’s such a special experience.”
Crockford is a huge fan of The Who, and has seen the band perform the Hall several times. “That’s an amazing experience, because normally when you’re going to see them you’re sat in the back of a stadium, hoping that they’ll play really, really loud,” he says. “But in the Albert Hall that’s never an issue. I absolutely loved every show.”
“There’s nowhere more special than the Royal Albert Hall,” Who singer Roger Daltrey tells Pollstar. “It’s the equivalent in popular music to what the Vienna Opera House is to opera.” Standing on stage at the Hall is “a sight that you will never forget for all of your life. It’s the most exhilarating visual you’ll ever have, it’s fabulous. And there’s something about the way the Albert Hall is designed. Alright, it’s 6,000 people, but it almost feels like they’re in your front room, it’s so intimate. And it creates a very special atmosphere, because of that. What we see from the stage is magical. But I know that when you’re in the boxes or in in the stall seats, when you light the audience in there, all having a good time, it is an exhilarating human experience.”
Daltrey is the patron and driving force behind the UK’s Teenage Cancer Trust, which has staged concerts at the Royal Albert Hall since 2000.
“Myself, most pop and rock musicians and, in fact, everyone in that industry, they basically owe their careers, and their jobs, to the support of teenagers, and young adults,” Daltrey says. Yet “it’s still very difficult to raise money for that age group. I find that very frustrating. I don’t know what it is about teenagers. People seem to throw money at children with cancer, but as soon as they get to around 13, 14, 15, 16 – in other words, start to look like adults – it gets much more difficult to raise money. People, for some reason or the other, don’t feel as sorry for teenagers.”
When Daltrey started the Teenage Cancer Trust shows 21 years ago, he knew he had to build a recognizable brand, and the only place he was sure would help him do that was the Royal Albert Hall.
“I had to do it somewhere that was special,” he recalls. “When you ask an artist, especially young artists, ‘Will you do a charity show,’ most of them will say, ‘Well, what’s the charity?’ You tell them, ‘It’s the Teenage Cancer Trust,’ and they say yes, because they know that the Teenage Cancer Trust shows are going to be held at the Royal Albert Hall. They just want to play it because it’s a legendary venue.”
Since the first Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Hall in 2000, it has raised £30 million ($42 million) in ticket sales. After shows, even more pours in…
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