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Royal Albert Hall boss: The impact of Covid is still devastating for us

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 04/05/2022 Robert Dex
Royal Albert Hall © Getty Images for SOLT Royal Albert Hall

The boss of the Royal Albert Hall says the economic impact of Covid is far from over in the creative sector — even though crowds are coming back to venues across the capital.

Craig Hassall says the pandemic has left the hall, which first opened its doors in 1871, without any financial reserves, in debt and struggling with staffing issues. He said the venue spent its reserves of £27 million during lockdown when its doors were closed and had drawn up plans to mothball the building.

He said: “It could take up to 20 years to get back to pre-pandemic levels and that is a concern, not just for us, that people think Covid is over and it sort of is but the impact of Covid is devastating for the whole creative sector, the music industry, theatre, dance and it is not like it is suddenly finished and we are all back to how it was.

“All of us in this sector are in a crippling financial situation and we have to all trade our way out of it. It is not about Government funding, it is about giving us every opportunity to make as much activity as we can.”

Mr Hassell, who was appointed CEO at the hall in 2017, said sales have been strong since January and pointed to rising champagne demand as proof audiences were determined to make the most of the relaxation of Covid controls but said plans for the future were hampered by massive debt. He said: “We owe the Government £20 million. We have no reserves so we have to build our reserves back up.

“We can’t really green light any big projects until we find funding for them and the other thing is staff are feeling overworked because it’s an adjustment to come back out of furlough, a lot of people are off because of Covid, and we are finding it hard to fill positions so staff here are carrying the load.”

Mr Hassall is also planning to “tug at the right heartstrings” and hopes philanthropists in the United States will help fund a £20 million makeover to build a recording studio, soundproof its Elgar Room so it can host gigs at the same time as the main hall and increase the number of bars and restaurants.

He said: “We are looking to American donors and there are really strong links between the US and the Royal Albert Hall. If I do a catalogue of all the famous Americans who have performed at the hall it is pretty impressive from Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone and the list goes on and on and on.”

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