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Breath of Fresh Air
London’s latest music venue has already been voted International Arena of the Year. Annica Wainwright finds The O2 suitably invigorating
Flashback to 28 January 2008. Linkin Park have just opened their first night at The O2 with a cracking version of their new single What I’ve Done, when the band’s frontman pauses to look out at the crowd. Having sold over 50 million records, these guys are used to attention, but Chester Bennington nevertheless seems overwhelmed. Taking in the awesome stage-view of a jam-packed, 20,000-capacity arena, he tests the venue’s famous acoustics once more as he pipes up: ‘Leave it to London to build the biggest, baddest, fucking venue on earth.’
Bennington was right to be impressed. Our capital may not have seen a major new purpose-built music venue since the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 but that’s more than made up for here. The O2 is big enough to fit 13 Albert Halls so it’s certainly imposingly proportioned – but there’s more to it than that. Every last aspect, from the comfortably padded seats and amazing sightlines right through to quick-pour beer pumps and long rows of loos, was designed with the visitor experience in mind and not a penny was spared in making sure its acoustics were truly remarkable.
As a result, The O2 has managed to attract an astonishing line-up. Bon Jovi scored a last-minute ticket to open the venue – pipping long-confirmed Justin Timberlake to the post – and the list of acts who have played there since includes The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Barbra Streisand, while the Spice Girls took 17 nights during their reunion tour (topped only by Prince, who played 21 sold-out gigs). And could it really have been chance that made Led Zeppelin choose the venue for their first concert in 27 years?
We think it’s safe to say bands like to play The O2. And Nathan Kosky, head of premium seating at the venue, would tend to agree. During our showround, we told him about Bennington’s praise and guess who wasn’t surprised at all? ‘We’re getting used to those reactions,’ he confirms. ‘I’d say nine out of ten acts comment on the venue, especially on the first night. Snow Patrol did it, Gary Barlow and Take That – almost everyone does.’
At the Pollstar Concert Industry Awards in February this year, The O2 not only picked up the gong for Best New Concert Venue but it also held off stiff competition to win Best International Arena of the Year. Its operators, AEG Europe, were also justly proud to announce that the venue’s ticket sales have surpassed those of New York’s Madison Square Garden, ensuring The O2 is now ‘officially the most popular venue in the world’. With an ever-growing line-up already including the likes of Kylie, Bryan Adams and Santana, we’re not surprised.
The brave companies who signed up for one of the 96 swish private boxes long before the venue opened are certainly laughing. Who, even in their wildest dreams, could have predicted such a success
story? Debentures, initially offered in three, five, or ten-year varieties, have long since sold out, so your first chance to lay your hands on one would be in 2010.
So how can you entertain at The O2? Well, groups are always best off contacting individual promoters, who often put on hospitality in their dedicated Backstage Bar. For one-on-one client entertainment, we’d recommend joining The VIP Club, which gives members access to some of the same facilities as corporate box holders, with top tickets for ten events included in the £3,750+VAT per seat fee. This would get you into the sleek VIP Club Lounge.
All hospitality guests enter via the BMW VIP Walkway, which has a dedicated drop-off point, but the coolest way to arrive is undoubtedly by boat. Thames Clippers (tel: 0870 781 5049) operates a ferry service from Embankment, Waterloo, London Bridge, Tower and Canary Wharf piers, and there is always the option of private charter (see the Thames River Boats Venue Menu on squaremeal.co.uk for a list of operators). The O2 actually has its own private boat – but you’d have to fight the bands for it: Take That, Elton John and Bon Jovi have all used the service in conjunction with shows.
The O2’s smaller music venue, the 2,000-capacity IndigO2, also has hospitality facilities, tickets for which are available on an ad-hoc basis. A VIP ticket includes entry to the Purple Lounge and seats in the King’s Row on level one, where the wide, soft seats come with table service.
Last but not least, there are plentiful hospitality opportunities in Entertainment Avenue, a thoroughfare that occupies 60 per cent of the total floor space at The O2, and is one of the venue’s main selling points. Outlets range from fast food to fine dining and many come with private facilities. Some, including Gaucho Grill and the American Bar & Grill, also have private boxes, and although they can’t officially sell packages, groups who book the private dining rooms may find themselves invited as guests.
We won’t tell if you don’t.
TRIED & TESTED
VIP HOSPITALITY AT THE O2
By Karen Doyle
Knowing how hard hospitality tickets to The O2 arena are to come by, we jumped at the chance to hang out in a private box at the NME Awards as guests of Greenwich Inc. The evening kicked off with drinks and suitably themed canapés – mini Reuben sandwiches, burgers and nachos – in the Inc-owned American Bar & Grill, where we got a chance to check out the large private dining facility before heading over to the company’s chic 18-seater box. With stunning views of the main stage and a contemporary lounge area, this space also had its own bar. After enjoying the lively entertainment, it was back into the fathomless depths of The O2’s Entertainment Avenue, where the party continued into the early hours.
Hospitality sales: Tamara Frost, tel 020 7536 2804
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.