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Inspiring Spaces: the Royal Albert Hall

14 October 2011 | London Calling

With a 9,999 piped organ, a 990 year rent contract set at a shilling a year, and a secret lift concealed inside a statue of Price Albert, the Royal Albert Hall is an iconic building full of inspiring stories.

Erected in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall was built as part of the 80 acre Gorehouse estate, which today includes the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, British Museum, Imperial University and the Royal College of Music. Envisioned by Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Albert, who tragically died of typhoid before it was complete, it was left to his besotted wife to throw herself into ensuring the project was finished.

Still only paying a shilling (five pence) in its annual rents, as part of a 990-year contract, the Royal Albert Hall’s original purpose was to host arts and science exhibitions. It has witnessed appearances by Einstein, heard the sweet melodies of the best orchestra’s in the world and housed one of the best renowned circus’, Cirque du Soleil. However, the Albert Hall has become more than a just a host of exhibitions. It has become the place where people’s dreams become reality, where stars of all genres of music and entertainment can be heard and enjoyed.

Perhaps an assumption made of the hall, is that it is old-fashioned. Built over a century ago by the stiff upper class Victorians and commissioned by the man that sent the first Christmas card, Henry Cole, it certainly is one of the most exquisite places to watch an opera or to listen to an orchestra, but it actually holds so much more and resonates with uniquely British-ness touches from its redbrick exterior to the small engraved ‘A’s for Albert along each staircase, just one show of the love Victoria felt for him.

In 2004, the hall, needing to expand, delved underground and extended its amenities where the eye cannot see. As if in a James Bond movie, staff descend into the new basement, in a lift concealed in a statue of Albert at the back of the hall. Inside is covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti of the rich and famous, from The Beatles to Paverotti.

Having sung there myself as part of my school choir, I have been given views from the dizzying heights of the Gallery, where members of the circus change their costumes or members coming to watch the tennis have their regal lunches. I have also been to the basement, which has no windows, low lighting, and clean, clinical corridors, making it feel almost like the depths of the Titanic but which lead to some of the greatest graffiti art I have ever seen.

Everywhere the eye looks within the Royal Albert Hall, grandeur is seen; from the crimson curtains and chairs, the ever-arching dome with its dramatic sound disks and the 9,999 piped organ taking centre stage.
As your hand glides over the red, velvet cushions your get a real sense of Queen Victoria’s passion and determination to turn Albert’s dream into reality.

The Royal Albert Hall not only offers those that are at the heights of their career a chance to perform, it also offers a stage to those at the very beginning of their lives a chance to really feel that what they are doing matters.
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