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NAA chair Lucy Noble reacts to England’s ‘Plan B’

Noble, who is artistic director at London's Royal Albert Hall, says she expects the tightened government regulations to hit ticket sales

By James Hanley on 09 Dec 2021

Lucy Noble, Royal Albert Hall

Lucy Noble at the Royal Albert Hall


National Arenas Association (NAA) chair Lucy Noble has outlined the implications of the UK government’s “Plan B” measures for live music in a new interview with IQ.

In an effort to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, prime minister Boris Johnson announced last night that the wearing of face masks will be mandated in all venues from next Wednesday (15 December), and vaccine passports will be required to gain entry.

Johnson said the new rules, which include negative LFTs following extended lobbying by the live sector, would “help to keep these events and venues open at full capacity, while giving everyone who attends them confidence that those around them have done the responsible thing to minimise risk to others”.

Noble, who is artistic director at London’s Royal Albert Hall, anticipates the tightened regulations to hit public demand at what is traditionally a busy time of year.

I’m mostly worried about the impact on ticket sales

“I think ticket sales and attendances will be impacted,” she says. “I think there will be more no-shows over the coming weeks. And it’s going to cost arenas to check everyone – it’s a huge undertaking, a huge cost and it also impacts on customer service. But I think we can get over all of that; I’m mostly worried about the impact on ticket sales.”

Noble says ticket sales had been “really strong” before declining slightly amid the emergence of the new Covid variant last month. She adds the significant volume of no-shows reported by other venues had not been replicated at the Hall, which took out a £20 million loan from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund last year.

“People see the Royal Albert Hall as a really special night out, so they don’t really want to forego that,” she surmises. “Events always see no shows, but ours are at the same level as they were before the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the Hall’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which were due to kick off on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years to the day of its opening – will now extend to 2023 due to the disruption caused by Covid-19.

“It was sad that we were shut for our actual 150th birthday,” reflects Noble. “But what was exciting was that we had commissioned [composer] David Arnold to write a piece to celebrate the Hall’s 150th birthday and that, fortuitously, landed on the day that we could open at full capacity – 19 July.

“That was a wonderful way to come out of the pandemic, but also to celebrate the hall’s anniversary and it was a great concert. We have lots of other exciting things planned for it – we plan to extend it through to the end of 2023 now – so we’re just going to have a long 150th birthday.”

I’m feeling positive about our recovery as an industry

Noble, who previously held a hybrid commercial/artistic role at the venue, was recently appointed as its first artistic director by CEO Craig Hassall. The Hall is also recruiting a new chief operating officer in 2022.

“We’re about to embark on our next business plan, and sustainability is a big pillar of that, along with diversity and innovation,” she explains. “We want to think of our talent pipeline, and our future artists and audiences as well.

“We’ll also be looking at the whole visitor experience for the Royal Albert Hall, so it’s not just about the performance; it’s about the Hall becoming a destination in the daytime as well and opening it up more.

“In the new year, we’ll announce a new associate artist scheme where we’re going to be working with younger artists. It will be the first time the Hall has ever done that and we’re quite excited about it.”

Artists scheduled to play the venue in 2022 include Eric Clapton, James Arthur, Brian Wilson, Gladys Knight, Joe Bonamassa and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Noble, who succeeded Motorpoint Arena Nottingham chief Martin Ingham as NAA chair in 2019, adds she has been impressed by the teamwork displayed by the events sector and singles out new trade body LIVE for special praise.

“We were able to influence government to a certain point,” she says. “When [the pandemic] first started, we had no voice at all. So that’s been key. I’ve enjoyed working with my industry colleagues in a way that we never have done before. If there’s one good thing to come out of this, it’s that there is a stronger, more unified voice across the industry – and that’s going to be a great thing moving forward for the whole industry.”

She concludes: “For the NAA, the pandemic has taken up so much of our time, but sustainability will be high on the agenda moving forward. We’ve all got a common goal to improve and work together to eventually work towards net zero

“At the moment, we’re right in the middle of this new variant and I don’t know what that will bring. But I’m feeling positive about our recovery as an industry.”

 


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