Holding Live at Chelsea in the grounds of a historic venue requires a delicate touch, says Kilimanjaro Live event manager Simon Skelt.
What were the challenges, logistically and organisationally this year?
We feel incredibly fortunate to host Live at Chelsea within the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It’s been home to the famous Chelsea Pensioners for 324 years and as I’m sure you can imagine this poses many challenges throughout the eight days that we are on site.
There are over 300 veteran residents living within the grounds, plus a large number of staff and this is something we are incredibly conscious of at all times. It’s important that they can continue their daily routine without too much disruption and that the hospital can operate as normal despite the fact we are building a concert site and bringing in 24,000 customers over the four show days.
Unfortunately, Sir Christopher Wren didn’t design the site with us in mind all those years ago. We have to cross-load all of our trucks from a service road due to gate width restrictions, whilst handballing the stage through The Octogen, a grand York Stone hallway between the Chapel and the Great Hall, where the Pensioners eat.
The golden statue of the hospital’s founder, King Charles II, is in the middle of Figure Court which is our concert arena. This means that as soon as production have finished their rig we need to edge the cherry picker past the statue to be able to finish the installation of the seating. It’s like a live game of Tetris and the timing has to be spot on as if we have any delays it has quite a significant knock-on effect to the rest of the build.
We also have to be wary of how much noise we make throughout the whole process, especially during sound checks as the pensioners take an afternoon break after their lunch, so we ask artists to plan around a 4.00pm start for sound checking, which then only gives a small window till we open the gates at 5.30pm.
Having 6,000 people within the grounds for an evening poses the most significant challenge to us as we have to want to ensure that everyone who comes has a brilliant time but also respects the history and home of the Chelsea Pensioners and the Royal Hospital itself.
Many of these challenges are made far easier than they should be due to the help and dedication of the Royal Hospital’s staff, most notably Mark Smith, the operations manager and head porter Mick Bolt and his team.
They tirelessly work day in and day out to help us achieve a wonderful concert series and it is certainly something that I am incredibly grateful for. The challenges of putting on a show in this unique venue pales in comparison to the pure joy we all have when we see the concert built, the customers in, the show up and running and the pensioners either dancing in their famous scarlet jackets or sitting and watching from their windows in the Long Wards which have a great view of the stage. There is often a lot of waving between our audience and the pensioners in their windows.
What is new/innovative this year?
We have only made a handful of changes to Live at Chelsea since its inaugural year in 2015 and this year was no different. We tend to use the same suppliers where we can due to the fact that it helps us in knowing our suppliers know the site, the challenges and the duty of care we have to bring to such an important and historical venue.
How do you go about choosing acts for the demographic?
The artists are chosen very carefully by the promoters to suit the location and surroundings of the Royal Hospital. They have the difficult task of taking in to consideration that we like to keep the Chelsea Pensioners content and tapping their feet (and they soon tell us when they aren’t impressed!) whilst choosing an act that can sell to the capacity that our temporary concert venue holds and can also work within the staging and AV/LX restrictions that we necessarily have.
What special technological additions help make the festival great?
As our stage is positioned in front of the colonnades, the clock tower, the Great Hall and the Chapel our production team do a great job of up-lighting these parts of the building to make sure they really stand out which creates an incredible backdrop to the show.
I believe that the main drawing point that makes our event great is nothing to do with any technological additions, in fact it’s the complete opposite. We are pretty low key with that because it’s the building but more so the human element that makes it such a unique and special concert. The Chelsea Pensioners are the greatest visual aspect, dancing along with the audience or waving from their windows. They often wander around the site, chatting to customers, posing for photos and telling jokes and stories. They are really welcoming to us and the audiences and it makes it a real pleasure to have the honour to produce these concerts.
Promoter / Event Management – Kilimanjaro Live
Health and Safety Advisor – Rock Safely
Production Management– LarMac Live
Audio – Capital Sound
Lighting – Coloursound
Power – 4th Generation
Bars – One Circle Events
Seating / Grandstands – Arena Seating
Stage – Acorn
Marquees – Key Structures
Toilets – PTL
Trakmats – Entertee
Picnic Benches – GT Trax
VIP Furniture – Event Hire UK
Dressing Room Furniture / White Picket Fence – Inner Sanctum