Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall went to see the final phase of work at the Wilton’s Music Hall yesterday, to officially reopen the historic building after its multi-million pound refurbishment. The Prince of Wales revealed his grandmother, The Queen Mother, would have loved it there.
The Royal couple were greeted by staff and volunteers from Wilton’s and children from nearby schools.
The Prince and the Duchess toured the building and met school children involved with theatre projects; some were learning music hall songs, while others made bunting.
They also spoke to historians and architects inside the hall, who helped design Wilton’s new £4.5 million look; they then climbed the dozen stairs to hear children from Harry Gosling’s Primary school perform a medley of musicals first performed in the music hall in the 1880s, the music hall’s heyday.
Wilton’s is the only surviving music hall in the world, and dates back to the 1850s. The east London venue in Whitechapel could seat more than 1,500 people and was described as the ‘Handsomest Room in Town’, with a dazzling chandelier with 300 gas jets, and 27,000 cut crystals.
It is thought the first ever can-can in Britain was performed here, and was promptly banned. The Grade II listed building reopened in January 1999 after work was completed, and was used as a Wesleyan mission chapel until the 1950s.
Actor, musician and writer, Simon Callow also performed for Charles and Camilla, as they sat at a table in the front row. The acts included Victorian magic from Morgan and West, a cabaret number from Gwyneth Herbert and Frances Ruffelle, and a music hall number from Bob and Barry Cryer.
Barry Cryer joked afterwards: “We can boast we were in a Royal variety show that was over very quickly. I bet Charles and Camilla were thinking, ‘This is good, bang, bang, bang’.”
Prince Charles also hopped onto the stage, briefly, for a short speech, in which he mentioned his beloved grandmother, The Queen Mother: “It’s been a very special morning and I’m thrilled to have had the chance of meeting at least some of the people involved in putting all of this back together again.
“I know how difficult these projects can be and the frustration of trying to find the money and everything else.”
“My grandmother would have loved the stand up, sit down bit [of the comedy act], I was brought up in that school you know!”
The Prince is the Patron of Wilton’s and this is his first visit since 2006 when the building stood derelict, and encouraged the renovation of the historic hall. He also spoke of his involvement:
“I’m afraid I’m rather a sucker for these sorts of projects.”
Prince Charles also helped save Dumfries House for the nation, with its collection of priceless Chippendale furniture.
Holly Kendrick, executive director at the hall, said, “Wilton’s is a sensational historic venue for the modern day, in the heart of the East End, and a celebrated home of culture and community spanning a huge variety of genres from theatre, dance and music to cabaret and comedy. After a lengthy transitional period, Wilton’s is officially back on the map and we are all tremendously excited for what this year’s program will bring.”