For over 140 years, the iconic Alexandra Palace in North London has been a key landmark in the country's capital for providing entertainment and education to the nation. So valued is it, that in 1900 the Park and Palace was placed in a trust by an Act of Parliament, which stated that our beloved Ally Pally should be "available for the free use and recreation of the public forever".
Today, the Palace remains - as it is affectionately known - The People's Palace, hosting millions of visitors a year, and offering hundreds of events from music and comedy, to exhibitions and theatre. When we asked Simon Fell, Director of Event Operations, to recall his favourite past events at Alexandra Palace, he had no trouble speaking fondly of some personal highlights, both as a visitor and while working at the Palace.
"I’d definitely pick New Year’s Eve 1996/97. It was my first visit to an event at the Palace. Orbital, The Chemical Brothers and Paul Oakenfold where all here. The Chemical Brothers were just going massive and they were playing a tiny room downstairs which it felt like the whole Palace wanted to be in.
"In terms of my favourite events to work on, I’d have to say the ones outdoors. They’re designed so people can enjoy and move between both the Park and the Palace. Our Kaleidoscope Festival is a great example, you can enjoy so many different spaces, performances, plus the amazing views too. Not a lot of venues can offer that range of experiences."
Ally Pally has always been a space for an eclectic mix of events, put on with the highest quality. But now in 2020, the mighty Alexandra Palace faces the same difficulties and obstacles that venues across the country are also experiencing, with lockdowns and social distancing requirements significantly impacting the venue’s event programme. Every effort has been made to meet these challenges with the Palace safely hosting outdoor, drive-in and online events and entertainment throughout the spring and summer.
And now seven months on the team at Ally Pally is delighted to once again successfully host indoor public events with the launch of Live at Ally Pally at the end of September. The team at Alexandra Palace were elated to welcome people back inside the Palace's West Hall for the first time since March: a feeling they shared with the visitors and the performers.
"The response has been really positive," Fell told us. "We’ve had great feedback from people attending the events and the artists have enjoyed the opportunity to get back on stage"
In the current climate of COVID-19, the all important factor was that the events could take place safely and securely. While not an easy task, Alexandra Palace managed to pull it off.
"We’ve had plenty of interest from colleagues across the industry too regarding how we’ve run Live at Ally Pally. We’re fortunate in the sense that we’ve plenty of space here at the Palace, so we can hold socially-distanced events. Obviously many amazing venues aren’t so lucky in this regard.
"But, as an industry I think it’s positive when any venue is able to host entertainment at the moment. It’s fantastic for people, it ensures artists continue to have a platform to perform and gives professionals work opportunities. It’s also important to demonstrate that events can work, even at this time. They can go ahead safely, positively, which is vital to us as industry which has suffered so much due to COVID-related restrictions."
With the waters tested, and a successful launch for Live at Ally Pally, the team at the Palace looked ahead. Enter Christmas at Ally Pally: a series of events throughout December, designed to bring festive cheer back to the visitors of the Palace. You can catch an incredible show in the form of The Gruffalo's Child or some festive films in the stunning Victorian Alexandra Palace Theatre. Head to the Ice Rink for a skate with your loved ones, or see Santa's Grotto in the East Court. With all this, the message is clear for Alexandra Palace: Christmas is not cancelled, in spite of recent challenges.
"It’s great to offer a Christmas season of entertainment. We’ve always been aware that guidelines can change so wherever possible we’ve factored that into our event planning. The biggest factor of the local London lockdown is the restrictions on only attending events with your household or bubble. Christmas tends to be the time of year people go on family outings. So, hopefully it won’t have too much of a negative impact.
"We’ve set up the events with families in mind, with a programme offering a variety of activities and the chance to spend a day, or half a day, at the Palace. You might want to combine some ice skating with a trip to the theatre or Santa’s Grotto for example. We’ve also got the park too, which is fantastic for a winter walk."
There's something for the whole family at the Palace this festive season, but perhaps the most exciting is The Gruffalo's Child - the hit musical adaptation of the award-winning sequel to The Gruffalo.
"It’s just a fantastic show, that has a real magical quality." Fell tells us. "Anyone who loves the books will enjoy it. It’s been great to work so closely with Tall Stories, who produce the show. And it’ll be amazing to see it come alive inside the theatre. It’s great to be able to offer a theatrical experience for people, especially at Christmas time."
Things may remain uncertain in many ways this festive season. But, Alexandra Palace are determined to offer a positive and memorable Christmas for all the right reasons. That's why Ally Pally has a message for everyone: Christmas is not cancelled.
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