Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer fun at Blenheim Palace!

Apologies for the significant pause since I last blogged - no excuses other than time racing by at a frighteningly fast pace.

I last wrote on the morning after the Awards evening when we were celebrating winning the 'Oxfordshire Business of the Year' Award. We have been enjoying this accolade and there is no doubt that it will help our profiling going forward - it raises the bar on everyone's expectations (quite rightly) and hopefully it will draw business to us as we pop into mind and onto radars. Would be good if it helped to draw in new conference and banqueting business as the space we have to offer in the Palace and in the Orangery is absolutely stunning - as good as anything available in the County or even further afield.

A lot has happened since I was last on here - pretty much all positive - the headlines and highlights are below:
  • My daughter Louisa turned 8, on American Independence Day (highly appropriate for a very independent young lady) and we had a lovely lunch followed by a visit to Giffords Circus with a bunch of her friends. Great entertainment and a fun day.
  • Our summer Trustees meeting went very well - great to get their positive and enthusiastic support for how we have performed over the previous period/year and to work with them for future opportunities and future strategic ambition going forward. It is so exciting that after 8 years or so at Blenheim Palace that there is so much still on the agenda - in every area of the business.
  • England slid out of the World Cup with hardly a wimper; Andy Murray fell under the weight of expectation at Wimbledon; and an Australian won the British Grand Prix - we expect so much and so often we fail to deliver. The media should talk down our chances and we should celebrate any surprise victories that then may happen!
  • The new Destination Management Organisation for tourism delivery across Oxfordshire is up and running - at least in its "shadow format" under the City Council - and I am honoured to have been asked to chair the Shadow Board through this initial phase. It is going to be tough as funding cuts kick-in but there is no doubt that this structure is the right structure going forward - the first year or so will be critical to its long term success and it is vital that everyone across the public and private sector supports its arrival and invests in its success.
  • Attended Annabelle's sports day and enjoyed watching her and her class mates strive for glory in everything from tug-of-war to 4x100m relay - her class came second in their year and they all had a great day.
  • Attended Louisa's Barn Dance as she moves on from her pre-prep school - great fun although both Tracy and I wished that we had done some practising beforehand!
  • Attended the Vision XS annual conference in Oxford - an excellent gathering of industry professionals and a good line up of international/high profile speakers. Blenheim Palace was the case study workshop session in the morning - great fun to have 140 people chew over the business and to discuss the "opportunities" - we came away with some ideas that could work well - watch this space!
  • We had our "fun" staff golf evening at Kirtlington Golf Club last Thursday - a great evening with a mixture of golfers and (very) non-golfers. The non-golfers so enjoy the short 9 hole course and it is an evening that works very well with some super prizes (including 'best dressed' and 'shortest drive' - both incidentally either won or shared by Cathy) and the Tony White Cup in memory of our late construction manager who instigated this event a few years ago. The Cup was won by Andy Gunn with a score of 30 - not bad given the high winds! My team - "Hoy's Heroes" - came last! The non-golfers in my team played OK; I think it was the golfers in my team that let them down!!!!

Blenheim Palace continues to trade well and the "Buy One Day Get 12 Months Free!" annual pass offer continues to be very popular. June numbers were broadly on target and July has started OK - at least until it rained on St Swithin's Day - don't panic!

We have much to look forward to and hopefully the critical months of July and August will deliver in terms of fine weather and good numbers.

The gathering of Massed Brass + Silver Bands in the Great Court on Sunday 25 July should be an amazing spectacle (and a great sound!); this is followed by three days of jousting and falconry on Friday 6 to Sunday 8 August; which is then followed by the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Championship Dog Show on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 August (you would be barking mad not to come and see that!!) and then August closes with the Annual Classic Car Show on Sunday 29 August and Monday 30 August. Now that's what I call variety - especially when you add everything else that is here to enjoy each day.

Please make sure that Blenheim Palace is on your "to do" list this summer - we look forward to seeing you here and we look forward to giving you a very memorable experience - everyone is awaiting your arrival! And don't forget to get your annual pass!

I am now off for a few days holiday and I will write again when I get back.

Have a great summer.

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Anonymous Keith Hambly-Staite said...

Visited Blenheim for the first time since childhood (now seventy!)Experience exceeded expectations (perhaps the sunny weather and golden hues of the trees and stonework helped. But a reasonably informal atmosphere persuded me to convert our ticket to an annual pass (very good value)so perhaps I will enjoy the parkland in mid-winter as well. Certainly my wife and son are keen fishermen so I can see a spot of bother comingup!

October 30, 2010 at 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings from Lappland, Finland! Last night I went to see "The King's speach". This morning I found the web site of Blenheim Palace and this blog... I felt I needed some time travelling! I have visited Blenheim Palace 21 years ago; what a wonderful day I had! Everything was totally different compared to my home town and the FInnish culture. We were told that we'll visit sir Churchill's birth place, " a cottage". Hmmm... you can only imagine how surprised we all were! Well, we were also aroud 20 years old by that time and I think nobody of us really knew where sir Churchill was bor... but we foud it out! Now my wish is that I could one day visit the place again with my five children!
Nina Lehtonen, Rovaniemi, Finland

April 13, 2011 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Josh Ellis said...

Greetings from Houston, Texas, USA. I visited the palace this week, and it was an amazing day. I'm here with fellows PhD students, and several of us came over from Oxford to visit. The tour guide was personable, well-informed, and very animated. "The Untold Story" was worth the time as well, though I read so much that I often had to wait more than one rotation before proceeding to the next room. The grounds were in immaculate condition, especially having been so recently used and with ongoing preparations for future events. The Secret Garden was beautiful. All in all, I loved my time on the grounds. Thank you for providing a wonderful experience.

July 7, 2011 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger kevin said...

This was my first visit to the palace. I found the grounds and the building to be quite remarkable. The folks working at the palace were not only polite and helpful but several of them were willing to answer questions that I asked. They were quite knowledgable about the history of the buildings and the Churchill lineage. I would highly recommend a visit!

July 12, 2011 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Peter Rogers said...

There is much to see and experience at Blenheim Palace. Most enjoyable to me, however, was learning about another side of Winston Churchill. His artwork, his proposal to Clementine, and the palace itself reveal the familial side of the great wartime leader. The grounds are also incredibly beautiful and worthy of a long walk on a nice day.

July 15, 2011 at 3:26 PM  

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

A very special night!

Last night we attended the 16th Oxfordshire Business Awards and we took a full table of managers from across all sectors of the business - a few could not attend this year due to holidays/other engagements but we had a good turn out and we were set for a good evening.

We were up for two awards:

>> First up was the Sustainability Award and we were up against The Big Bang Restaurant and Fired Earth. The Big Bang Restaurant won the award (well done Max!) and thus we picked up the Runner-up Award. A huge credit to everyone on site who has driven the sustainability agenda so aggressively over the last year or so - virtually from a standing start.

>> Next up was the Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Award and we were up against West Oxfordshire District Council and Witney Lakes Resort. We were delighted to win this award and it reflects the success of the "Buy One Day Get 12 Months Free!" scheme through 2009.

All of the award winners are then assessed for the overall "blue ribbon" Oxfordshire Business of the Year Award and we were stunned and delighted that this was awarded to Blenheim Palace!

What a huge credit to the Duke and to everyone who works here; what a huge credit to a hugely talented team of people - well done to them all!

We celebrated with a glass or two of bubbles; we hit the dance floor and the mini-bus finally dropped us all home - tired, proud but massively happy.

Blenheim Palace is a unique and wonderful resource and it is very special to have our business recognised by our peers across Oxfordshire - thank you to the organisers for a wonderful awards evening and well done again to an amazing team at Blenheim Palace.

Where do we go from here?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done everyone! Thoroughly deserved. As a resident in the town i am constantly amazed at the efforts that you all put in to making this national treasure so accessible, interesting and stimulating to all who take the time.
Best wishes and thanks to you all.

June 19, 2010 at 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thoroughly deserved, what a wonderful place!

June 19, 2010 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thank you to both for your kind comments!


June 20, 2010 at 11:53 PM  

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Roll on June!

The last day of May and the last day of our three day craft fair - "Art, Design and a Taste of Summer" - a wonderful collection of exhibitors and displays.

May has been a topsy-turvey month with some very good weather/numbers and some very untimely poor weather. We started the month with the May Day Bank Holiday Jousting weekend hugely affected by damp + miserable weather and the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend at the end of the month has also been weather affected - with Saturday virtually washed out by the rain. Despite an underwhelming start and finsh - the middle has performed OK with some lovely hot weather at times and some strong weekends - not least the glorious Aston Martin Owners Club gathering which sat spectacularly across the front of the Palace.

Hopefully June will enjoy good weather and good numbers - so important that these critical summer months perform at or above expectations as once they are past there is not enough "volume" in the remaining months to pull up any shortfall. The month has a variety of sporting and cultural delights for everyone to enjoy - on the sporting front we have the Triathlon weekend (5 + 6 June) and this is followed by a Junior Sculling Regatta on the Main Lake organised by the Hinksey Sculling School (12 June) - culturally the month is dominated by a series of outdoor theatrical performances by the Oxford School of Drama at the Pleasure Gardens. From 9 to 12 June and then from 14 to 19 June performances of "The Comedy of Errors" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be staged on alternate nights - a great setting for some inspiring outdoor theatre.

June is also annually dominated by preparations for our summer Trustees meeting in early July - this meeting is held on site here at Blenheim Palace which adds to the pressure for all concerned. Papers and Agendas are beginning to be drafted and these include the accounts from the prior year - which mean that Dom's desk is covered by even more paper than usual! We are on track at this early stage and hopefully the month will run smoothly and that the pack of papers will go out to the Trustees on time at the end of the month - always a sigh of relief to get to that stage but not there yet!

On the national/international front, it has been a weekend of mixed fortunes for the Brits. Success in the Grand Prix with Lewis and Jenson storming to the front courtesy of the "fighting bulls seeing red" and the England Football team scraping a dodgy win in Austria thanks to the generosity of the Japanese defence - on this form the England team won't last long in South Africa but I have a hunch that we will actually do quite well - semi's or even the final should be in our grasp! On the failure front, Andy Murray skidded out of the French Open with hardly a whimper and our entry in the Eurovision Song Contest achieved a glorious last place on the night! We almost expect this outcome - but then Pete Waterman was successful several decades ago so why should we expect him to deliver the right formula for success in 2010 - we need a fresh young approach to have any chance of overriding the voting prejudices across Europe. And the jury is out on the England Cricket team - currently struggling to beat the mightly Bangladeshi team at Lords - could be an exciting last day's play.

Enjoy your bank holiday and say goodbye to May - lets hope that June arrives in positive mode and that it delivers on every front!

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June 17, 2010 at 12:44 AM  

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Enjoy it while it lasts!

The sunshine, warmer weather and blue skies lifts our spirits and visitor numbers each day reflect this improvement - a good, positive measure is that ice-cream sales are soaring! Fingers crossed that it lasts into the Whitsun weekend so that we can finally enjoy a sunny bank holiday.

The political horizons are trying to settle down with the new coalition still finding it's feet - only time will tell how it performs but I feel positive that the "can do" attitude will prevail and that collectively we will hawl ourselves out of the hole that we were left in by the last government. I am sure though that there will be some collective pain for us all to go through - both personally and from a business perspective - to get there and we will no doubt better understand this once we have seen the Emergency Budget on 22 June. I suspect that we will face some tough times for two or three years and that we may well have to again look carefully at costs, etc across the business. Lets hope that the continued sunshine mitigates the pain!

The working weeks seem busier than ever with a multitude of engagements throughout each day and into many evenings - the new Destination Management Organisation for Oxford and Oxfordshire (to drive a joined-up tourism message) is looking very positive and the "invited" Shadow Board is due to meet for the first time early next month - this will then formulate the work load around the launch of this exciting new venture for the County. It has taken a while to structure this public/private sector partnership but it will be good for the tourism sector once it is up and running - not long now!.

The managers from the various Treasure Houses met yesterday in London for one of our regular meetings and it was sad that two of the managers - Simon Seligman from Chatsworth and Celia Deeley from Woburn Abbey - are both moving on this summer to new challenges and thus this was their last meeting. Both will be hugely missed and both have contributed massively to the Treasure Houses group - we gave them both a good send-off over a yummy lunch! Always interesting to get feedback from the other houses as to how they are faring on the business front - we are all broadly faring similarly on the visitor front other than Harewood who had a storming bank holiday event with Peppa Pig - clearly a very popular little piggy given the crowds that descended on Harewood over two days in early May! Most sites reported strong wedding business and "recovering" conference + banqueting business - we certainly have a steep recovery line to achieve for our conference + banqueting trade which has been hit hard by the economic downturn - but there are signs that the range and extent of our stunning space, both within the Palace and at the Orangery - is drawing business back slowly.

We had a planning meeting for the Triathlon on Thursday - the big weekend draws closer (5 and 6 June) and several of our staff (but not me!) are in the final stages of their tough training regimes - will they all survive and will they improve/achieve their times? I will report the full gory details post event!

This weekend we have a stunning event lined up for Sunday under the sunshine and blue skies - the Aston Martin Owners Club are staging their 75th Anniversary Concours and they are going for the largest gathering ever of Aston Martins in one place. Around 400 cars are expected to be parked up in and adjoining the Great Court in front of Blenheim Palace - what a wonderful spectacle it will produce. HRH Prince Michael of Kent is attending and Carolyn Grace will be bring back her Spitfire for a stunning air display over the Lake at 2.50pm. Definately an event not to be missed and we hope for big crowds to enjoy this spectacle.

Enjoy the weekend; enjoy the sunshine; enjoy the ice-creams and enjoy the Aston Martin event.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Much has evolved since my last blog and as I sit here writing this we are still facing so much uncertainty.

On the political front, the Lib Dem flirting with both parties goes on and we all await news - currently the Conservative/Lib Dem "deal" looks the most likely which will hopefully soon see David Cameron in at No 10 and some stability returning to Westminster. So much needs to be done and the uncertainty needs to be removed as soon as possible.

On the economic front, the situation in Greece has created much turbulence but hopefully the recently announced 750bn euro stabilisation package will have calmed nerves and lessened the contagion risk into other countries - but clearly the ongoing uncertainty in Westminster continues to fuel the worries and doubts and keeps matters unstable until there is an outcome.

On the tourism front, we face a raft of uncertainty caused by the volcanic ash clouds still affecting air travel coupled with the recently announced raft of strikes dates within BA - all very negative and unhelpful to a business that relies upon smooth inbound travel.

On the meteorological front the weather has been bitterly cold and very non-condusive for tourism and visits to places like Blenheim Palace. The Bank Holiday weekend was hugely affected by the cold/wet/dreary weather and it has stayed cold ever since - hopefully it will warm up soon as we need certain dry hot weather to pull in the crowds and to drive business levels.

On the sporting front, there are as always many distractions from Formula 1 to F A Cup to the summer World Cup and much much more - and locally we will be impacted by Oxfordshire descending upon Wembley Stadium next Sunday to watch Oxford United take on York City in the Blue Square Premier play-off for promotion into the Football League. Good luck Oxford!

So much uncertainty - but we must keep working hard to get our key messages out to the market and to continue to showcase Blenheim Palace for everyone to enjoy.

We have a whole raft of wonderful events this summer and we look forward to welcoming everyone - not least to take advantage of our "Buy One Day Get 12 Months Free!" special offer.

Cheer yourself up through all this uncertainty and enjoy a wonderful day out here at Blenheim Palace!

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Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Glenn - sorry for the delay in replying to your question.

The next Friends' Newsletter is just being finalised and should be out by the end of the week. Lots of exciting events are planned - hope to see you here at Blenheim Palace sometime soon.

Best wishes


May 11, 2010 at 7:55 AM  

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Joust for you; Joust for fun!

So the second bank holiday has arrived - and true to form the weather has taken a depressing dip after a couple of weeks of blue sky and sunshine. The colder, damper weather is hardly condusive to spending time outside but hopefully the appeal of our Jousting Tournaments and falconry displays will draw big crowds each day.

The Knights of Royal England led by Jeremy Richardson provide fantastic entertainment with two displays each day - both preceded by stunning falconry displays. A great day out for all the family with the Palace as a fantastic backdrop to the activities - hope to see you there!

The last couple of weeks have raced by and we are now less than a week away from the "big" election. The leaders debates have provided great prime time viewing and at least the 3rd one last night was a little more feisty - and a little less stage managed - than the first two on ITV and Sky. Brown seemed to be immensely negative and defensive throughout, not surprising after the events of the previous day in Rochdale, and he does seem to be wounded/damaged beyond repair which leaves Clegg and Cameron fighting for the floating or the switching voter. The fear of Labour securing the most seats with only the 3rd highest share of the popular vote terrifies me and hopefully the fear of this, and the uncertainty that it will create, will push votes towards the Conservatives so that they can secure both the seats they require and a working majority - probably too late to get the three leaders to Blenheim Palace this weekend for the jousting tournament - last man standing wins - sounds like an attractive proposition! Only time will tell but we will know the outcome a week today!

The Duke and Duchess have finally managed to return from a short break in America - they like many others were delayed by the volcanic ash cloud - but they got back in time for the Churchill Memorial Concert at Blenheim Palace last Saturday evening. The numbers attending were slightly down on prior years but it was an excellent evening with the main address being given by General Sir Richard Dannatt GCB CBE MC - very thought provoking and very clearly hugely inspired by the memory of Sir Winston Churchill. An excellent, high quality, event that raises good money for local charities.

On Monday evening we had a launch event to celebrate the publication of Margaret Forster's first book called "Churchill's Grandmama" - Margaret is married to John Forster (the Archivist and former Education Officer at Blenheim Palace) and this interesting book looks at, and celebrates/reveals, the life of Churchill's grandmother, Frances, 7th Duchess of Marlborough. Published by the History Press it is a great book that has been fully embraced and supported by the family - a "must read" for all of those interested in Churchill's life and his roots. Hopefully it will do well for Margaret.

On Wednesday I was in London for a meeting of the Tourism and Commercial Development Committee at the Historic Houses Association and we covered a wide range of topics including the political situation, the olympics and much more. One topic raised related to comments posted on websites and the apparent lack of controls to mitigate what is said about your property - this is a risk in today's open social media world but all we can all try to do is to ensure that everything is run and delivered to the highest possible standard every hour of every day so that we lessen the likelihood that negative comments will be posted. That said, we do know that some people will never be happy and that some people will always find fault and that some people will always just seek to complain - probably to see what they can get out of it - sad, but true. We monitor as many sites as we can and I am pleased that the vast majority of posts about Blenheim Palace are very positive - those that are negatively slanted are often price/value related but we have hugely lessened this area by way of our "Buy One Day - Get 12 Months Free!" Annual Pass offer.

So with an eye on the weather forecast we hope for a busy/successful weekend and with lots of families here to enjoy the bank holiday events - a perfect day out (even if the weather is less than perfect) to have some fun and to be entertained by the Knights.

The Knights of Royal England at Blenheim Palace - joust for you, joust for fun!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Hoy
May I ask when the Palace intends to send its next Friends' Newsletter? It seems a very long time since the last issue.

May 9, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Hoy,

Please can any one of your colleagues tell me where I can find family portraits of the fifth, 6th and 7th Dukes of Marlborough? Or did the 8th Duke sell them all to increase funds for the palace, if so, I would be very interested to see them. I know there's not much information on the 5th and 6th Dukes of Marlborough, but i would like to see this missing collection as a matter of interest.



June 25, 2010 at 12:14 PM  

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The forecast?

It seems some time since I last had time to post a blog but a lot seems to have happened in that time.

The party leaders have held their first much heralded TV debate and the pundits seem undecided as to whether much has come from it - Clegg (with nothing to lose and everything to gain) appears to have sparked some voter interest but only time will tell as to whether this will translate into votes on 6 May; Brown seemed robotic and fairly underwhelming; and Cameron appears to have done himself no harm but has probably not made the progress that he would have hoped for going into the programme. We missed watching it live as we were out but it seems to have been too much stage managed, pre-prepared and stilted - a bit like the first leg in a football match - and hopefully it will all get more feisty and off-the-cuff as they move into the second and third debates and as the finishing line draws closer. Will be interesting to see if viewer figures (around 9.9 milion) can be maintained - if not for Sky next Thursday then for the BBC debate on 29 April - as I suspect that the buzz around the first one may weaken by the third? It will be interesting to see and no-one can predict or forecast the outcome at this stage.

Work has been busy with lots of activity surrounding the emerging Destination Management Organisation for tourism delivery across the county - this is virtually ready to launch and the real work will now start to get the initial board in place; to get the staffing structure established; and to get pledges for membership turned into reality. Interesting times, positive times.

On Wednesday I took a rare day off and we went over to the West Midlands Safari Park near Kidderminster. We had a great day and the particular highlight was the drive through the safari enclosures - lots of animals, lots of healthy/active animals, and the ability to actually feed some of the animals. Both Annabelle and Louisa were enthralled to see such a wonderful variety of animals in such pleasant surroundings - despite the crowds and the convoy of cars, it was very impressive - most particularly the white lions and giraffes - especially as we virtually drove through the legs of a huge bull giraffe!

We missed the leaders debate on Thursday evening as we were invited to join the Ridge party at the Oxfordshire Community Foundation Gala Film Premiere for "Beyond the Pole" directed by David Williams and starring Stephen Mangan (Green Wing), Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet and Friends), Rhys Thomas (Fast Show) and Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood). It was an excellent film that I would recommend - funny, moving, sad and thought-provoking in a "climate change/global warming sort of way.

Roger File (our Property guru) and I lunched yesterday with our friends from Cornbury and Great Tew - both these near neighbouring estates share many of the same issues that we face here at Blenheim and it is valuable to chat through such issues and to better understand the threats and opportunities that we all face moving forward.

On the football front - the anxieties caused by following "your team" were never more highlighted than by the Spurs performances in the last week or so. Beaten badly by "relegated" Portsmouth at Wembley in the F A Cup Semi-Final last Sunday and then a storming victory over North London rivals Arsenal 3 days later! The high's and low's - next up Chelsea at home and Manchester United away - it doesn't get any easier on the nerves!

The warmer weather, the blue sky and the sunshine (despite the threat of volcanic ash invasion!) lifts our spirits and visitor numbers have been good through the school holiday week - hopefully we will have a strong weekend and that the tone will now be set for a positive few weeks into the summer.

Have a good weekend - enjoy the weather - a good forecast for once!

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