Camel droppings and Alice Cooper the highlights for Alexandra Palace’s outgoing MD
Ask Rebecca Kane what has been the highlight of her time at Alexandra Palace and her answer is unexpected – camel droppings.
The camel, droppings and all, was centre stage in 2010 when the north London landmark embarked on its biggest ever transformation – from a Victorian exhibition centre into a bustling Arabian souk.
Visitors were met at the railway station by people in Bedouin costume on a flock of camels and led up to the Palace, which had been transformed into a Moroccan themed bazaar, in Secret Cinema’s homage to Lawrence of Arabia.
“I remember thinking, this will blow people’s minds about what Alexandra Palace is,” said the 36-year-old managing director, who will shortly leave to take up a new job at the O2 in Greenwich.
“They were led by these camels through the park into the Great Hall, where there were 5,000 people in costume, talking and bartering, with a giant screen at one end.
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“Lawrence then rode right through the middle of the Great Hall on a camel. It was phenomenal. And all the while, one of my cleaning team was running behind them scooping up this camel’s poop.”
This three day cinematic festival showed the iconic landmark at its best – nostalgic and innovative at the same time.
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It seemed a world away from the troubled history that had dogged the venue throughout the preceding decade.
When Ms Kane left English Heritage, where her role included overseeing Kenwood House, to take up her role as managing director of the Palace’s trading company in December 2008, many in the heritage industry warned she was taking on a poisoned chalice.
The year before her arrival, Haringey Council became embroiled in a doomed attempt to lease the Palace to developer Firoka, which cost the taxpayer �2milllion.
Meanwhile, years of underinvestment had taken its toll on the building, which was badly decaying.
Visitors were staying away from the venue, even Ms Kane had never visited before applying for the job despite living minutes away.
“It piqued my curiosity as to why this amazing park and huge building had never inspired me to visit,” she said.
“I thought it was a big challenge.”
Once at the Palace, Ms Kane set about establishing its reputation as a popular music venue favoured by artists looking for a more quirky setting than the standard arenas.
Despite the recession, the venue has seen its live music takings soar and acts from Alice Cooper to Songs of Praise grace the stage.
In a major coup, Florence and the Machine are taking to the stage tomorrow (Friday 9) for Ms Kane’s last day at the Palace.
Yet the great debate over Alexandra Palace’s future focus continues and last month its board backed a bid to turn part of the venue into a UN world heritage site.
The outgoing managing director is clear about the direction she thinks it should take, which is to continue to focus on live performance.
“That means music, sport, and anything that involves people celebrating performing and doing,” said Ms Kane.
“That is what will keep this place alive. I would hate to see it become some kind of mausoleum to the past.
“It wasn’t built to celebrate itself, it was built to entertain and inspire.”