By Lisa Keddie
LONDON (Reuters) – Prestigious London performance and events venue the Royal Albert Hall opened at full capacity on Monday for the first time since March 2020, but the concert hall says the pandemic has been financially devastating.
From Monday, the British government’s main COVID-19 restrictions in England ended, meaning concert venues and theatres can sell all available seats.
“Financially, COVID has been devastating not just for the Royal Albert Hall …for the whole creative sector…for the whole world,” Craig Hassall, chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall, told Reuters.
The Royal Albert Hall is an independent charity, making the majority of its money from ticket sales and donors. During the pandemic, Hassall says they lost 60 million pounds ($82 million) in income and took a 20 million pound loan from the British government’s Culture Recovery Fund.
“This is the worst situation we’ve been in for an awful long time. But I’m confident now that we’re back on our feet and performing again, we can trade our way out of our deficits,” he said.
Like many venues across the capital, they have made changes to keep audiences safe, including a £900,000 ventilation project, and asking for masks to be worn in public places.
“There’s an awful lot being done beyond what the government says we should do to make sure the hall’s a really safe place.”
Nearly 300 performers were involved in Monday night’s birthday concert “A Circle of Sound” celebrating the hall’s 150th anniversary.
“I’ve locked myself away for two weeks because there is no way that I would ever miss this,” the show’s composer David Arnold told Reuters.
Saying he and the cast have been extra cautious as they wanted to avoid having to isolate, as has happened to other shows.
The production, which also features star guests including actor Michael Sheen, musician Melanie C and sports star Nicola Adams sold about 80% to 85% of their tickets.
The Royal Albert Hall was opened in March 1871 by Queen Victoria and named in memory of her husband. It was forced to close its doors for the first time since World War Two due to the coronavirus pandemic.
($1 = 0.7316 pounds)
(Reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)