Magical mystery tour

Magical mystery tour

A couple of great Beatles’ stories from the UK capital this month … A letter to Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, apparently penned in 1967 by Ernest O’Follipar, Chief Executive at the Royal Albert Hall, was found in the Hall’s own archives.

It demanded a change in the words of A Day in the Life. The song refers to the number of holes in the Albert Hall and Mr O’Follipar took exception to this, pointing out how well-maintained the building was! There was also a dismissive reply from John Lennon, addressed to ‘Prince Albert and friends’ basically telling him to get lost.

However, a little digging by your columnist reveals that the whole thing was something of an elaborate hoax. Probably the biggest giveaway is that the CEO’s name is an anagram for ‘April Fool’!

However, for real is an exhibition of previously unseen Beatles’ photographs from their first tour of the United States in February 1964. A rather lovely bistro-type, Italian restaurant called simply Forty Dean Street, right in the middle of Soho, has 20 unique images on display which you can enjoy whilst munching through divine pasta washed down with a nice glass of their recommended Gavi di Gavi.

The photographs are by Joe Allen and really capture the informality and fun which surrounded the band in those early days of fame. It is possible also to buy limited edition (25) copies of these great images and own a very small slice of Beatlemania.

A bridge too far?
No such thing, say Londoners. TV and film star Joanna Lumley is behind the wonderful Garden Bridge project and so, it seems, is the population of the capital. The plan is to build a pedestrian bridge between London’s Southbank and Temple. The bridge will become a park in itself with trees and plants and a meandering trail from one side to the other.

The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity raising the money for the ambitious project, found 78% of the local residents they questioned to be in favour of the idea. A third of the whopping £60 million (€86 million) cost of the bridge will have to be met by taxpayers so let’s hope the enthusiasm continues when people realise they will have to pay for it.

By royal appointment
A rare opportunity occurs every summer to visit the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. These are the formal areas of the Queen’s London residence which few get to see unless they are lucky enough to be invited to a royal banquet with a foreign head of state or receive an honour from Her Majesty or another member of the royal family.

Each year the Queen jets off to her estate at Balmoral in sunny Scotland, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind her. For this short time only, the state apartments are open to the public and offer a truly fantastic day out.

The sheer sense of history in a building which has been the London residence of the monarch since the times of George III engulfs you but seems weirdly familiar as we have all seen so many events there on our TV screens.

Apparently most of the State Rooms have not been redecorated since the Queen was crowned over 60 years ago but actually they look just fine with magnificent gilding, marble and plasterwork and chandeliers that are the stuff of dreams. The very small part of the monarch’s art collection on display is worth the visit alone.

However, ‘urgent repairs’ are understood to be needed throughout the palace at an estimated cost in excess of £150 million (€215 million) which may even require the Queen to vacate the palace for a full year. So try to see it this summer and your entrance fee will go in a small way (along with the six million other people who have visited since 1993) to preserve this astonishing royal London heritage.

The Queen’s husband, 94-year-old Prince Philip meanwhile continued his long history of making slightly inappropriate quips at an official engagement in east London recently. When meeting a group of women running a community health centre, his “who do you sponge off?” question could easily have been taken the wrong way by trustee Nusart Zamir but was actually laughed off. So seemingly was his obvious genuine desire to know whether or not a professional fundraiser he met had any friends left! All this, coming just a week after his exasperated “just take the f****** picture” when posing for a family group photograph at the palace, confirms the Duke remains on fine form!

Kids at work!
KidZania, the children’s indoor theme park where they can be anything from a policeman to a worker in a chocolate factory, is the latest import from the United States to hit West London. At the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, you can leave your kids for supervised play with more than 60 activities on hand whilst you shop till you drop or even have a drink at the bar. Many parents in the Algarve will know the KidZania which has been successfully trading in Lisbon for many years of course.

KidZania is hailed as ‘the child-sized city where the kids are in charge’. Next stop, the House of Commons maybe.

Lanesborough reborn
A few years ago, I was having lunch at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner and who should be sitting at the next table but the late, great Sir David Frost. I had bumped into him before and we nodded and said hello – to this day I am sure the thought he knew me but could not quite place me! It was a fine hotel back in those days but then closed in the way of all such hotels (like the Savoy and the Ritz in Paris) for a facelift which took several years.

It has now re-opened after a Regency-inspired refurbishment. This landmark five-star hotel boasts unparalleled luxury including a magnificent seven bedroomed suite with two sitting rooms and a butler – a snip at just £26,000 (€37,000) per night. The cheapest double rooms start at £715 (€1,000) and the wonderful Celeste restaurant has tasting menus starting at £130 (€185), placing this very much at the elite end of smart places to stay in London.