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Holding one of the most prestigious jobs in the industry, Jasper Hope is dedicated to pushing the boundaries. The director of events at the Royal Albert Hall tells Louise Troy about his climb to the top
It’s a good job Jasper Hope is
used to the long hours and late nights of event management. When we meet it’s just nine weeks since he oversaw a very important occasion indeed – the birth of his daughter Isabella.
Despite the fact Square Meal has dragged him away from his family on Saturday morning, Hope – the director of events at the Royal Albert Hall – couldn’t be more charming. He’s particularly enthusiastic about recreating the famous photo of violinist Yehudi Menuhin perched on the building’s roof.
And no wonder: it’s a stunning image and, fittingly, one that pays homage to the man who got Hope where he is today.
‘I’ve been in the events industry pretty much my entire career,’ he says. ‘I came out of university and on the Monday morning I started work at a music agency as a receptionist. I went from there really.’ He got his big break by masterminding Menuhin’s 80th birthday concerts in 1996. ‘He hadn’t been to South Africa for 40 years, since apartheid came in, but now things had changed and he was ready to go back. The problem was that South Africa doesn’t have a very developed orchestral scene and I couldn’t find anyone who would effectively buy the tour. I convinced my boss at IMG that we could promote it, and that was it – my first attempt at actually running an event. I haven’t looked back.’ Since then, Hope has organised everything from flower shows to performances by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. And now he holds one of the industry’s most prestigious jobs – although it certainly isn’t one for the faint-hearted. There are 350 events a year to plan at the 5,500-seat venue, and 1.2 million tickets are sold annually. Some classical events, such as the BBC Proms, are booked up to four years in advance, while rock and pop acts often squeeze a date at the venue into their current tour at just two months’ notice.
‘It’s brilliant fun, but it’s not easy,’ concedes Hope. Not only does he spend all day working on upcoming shows, but in the evenings he likes to stay around and watch that night’s performance.
‘Babies aside,’ he says, smiling, ‘I will stay for 360 shows a year. I like watching 5,000 people watching Eric Clapton, or Cirque de Soleil, and loving it. I appreciate the skill you need to hold
that audience in rapture and I’m proud that I helped get the performers there – and the 5,000 people!’
What kind of shows does he like best? ‘My musical taste is live. I don’t care what I see – I’ll happily go to a rock show or a classical concert and enjoy it, but I want to be there and see them using their skill to create the sound. Sitting at home listening to music is fine, but for me it’s just background noise.’
Since starting the job in
January last year, Hope has come to love the unique appeal of the venue. ‘Look at the audience – they’ve dressed up a little bit smarter because it’s the Royal Albert Hall, they’ve made it
automatically more of an occasion. Fitting events to the experience is the most important element of what we do.’
But while using such a well-known and historic venue has its advantages, there are challenges too. Hope has focused recently on making the venue more flexible and therefore more appealing to the corporate market – a tough task when some shows have 1,500 seats in boxes to be filled. One of the changes will see the top tier of the auditorium, the Gallery, turned from a standing area into a themed dining space for 200 at next year’s phenomenally popular Cirque de Soleil dates.
Similarly, one of the three restaurants, the Elgar, reopened in September after an extensive renovation. The changes, including the installation of blackout curtains, mean it can now be used for after-parties or as a corporate dining suite.
Hope’s desire to innovate extends to programming as well. ‘Coming up with new concepts, persuading new artists to come to the hall, that’s the biggest challenge,’ he says. ‘But it’s a good challenge, because you have to get creative.’ Recent successes include a live orchestral performance of the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, featuring most of the original artists. The first part of the trilogy has already been performed, with the film itself shown simultaneously on a 20m-wide screen.
Hope is now looking to the future again. ‘The hall has an unrivalled history for hosting balls but it hasn’t done one for 40 years. Take out the seats and we can have dinner here for 2,000 people,
with a dance floor – and even a DJ in one of the restaurants.’
The first such evening is tentatively planned for next year. ‘The time is right,’ says Hope. ‘I think people will relish the chance to dress up and come somewhere so special.’ So watch this space – it’s one of the most impressive in London.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, autumn 2009