Friday, May 29, 2009

The Promise

We all rely upon promises made and we suffer from promises broken.

Weathermen (and weatherwomen!) promise much (often enhanced by a side remark from a newsreader - such as, "So I should stay in tomorrow - or similar!") and this can hugely influence how everyone plans their days out - especially over a bank holiday weekend. Much was promised over the Whitsun weekend in terms of good weather and indeed Saturday and Sunday lived up to expectations - but Monday was forecast as being overcast with an increasing risk of heavy/thundery downpours. The weather maps showed Oxfordshire disappearing under a swathe of rain and this was all enough to kill off our Bank Holiday Monday business - even though the day turned out pretty well and we only had a few drops of rain! A promise broken that hurt us - or at least a promise that could have been more accurately presented!

Despite this, numbers over the three days were massively up year-on-year (over 100% up year-on-year) so we can't complain too much and everyone enjoyed the new "Art, Design and A Taste of Summer" show - especially my girls who quickly disappeared into the "Chocolate Heaven" marquee!

On Tuesday it was down to a packed Wembley Arena to see the Girls Aloud "Out of Control" Concert - what a fantastic show and what fantastic performers - great fun! They started and finished with "The Promise" - yes, one of their singles for those not in the know! - and they delivered a great show for their army of fans. I think I was virtually the only male there and the level of wild screaming was at fever pitch all evening - but my little girls (Annabelle 9 and Louisa 6) had a great half-term treat and a memorable evening watching Cheryl and the girls perform. What a buzz it must be to go out on stage in front of your screaming fans - maybe I should do X-Factor (in the "very old category") and launch my career - but then again maybe not - and thats a promise!

On Wednesday I travelled north into Warwickshire to give a talk to the Stour Valley Probus Club and met lots of interesting retired gentlemen - all of whom had a keen interest in Blenheim Palace and what we are doing across the Estate. They all promised to visit Blenheim and they promised to read my blog - in return I promised them a mention - so I have delivered my side of the bargain and I hope that they read this and let me know!!

Yesterday The Duke and Duchess finally received the Historic Houses Association/Christie's Garden of the Year Award from the President and Deputy Chairman of those organisations and over 80 high profile guests enjoyed a wonderful celebration lunch in The Orangery following the formal presentation of the award in the Italian Garden. Lots of press attended and they have promised lots of excellent coverage - we hope they deliver as the exposure for the gardens - and for the gardening excellence on show - will be valuable for us going into the summer months. We are all so proud to receive this highly prestigious award in its 25th year and the weather was kind to us after much rain on Wednesday - the weather forecast promised and the weather delivered.

The forecast for the weekend is for excellent weather (fingers crossed!) so hopefully we will be busy and sales of Blenheim Palace ice-cream and pimms should hit record levels! I promise you that Blenheim Palace and its surrounding Gardens and Parkland look sensational at this time of year - please do visit and enjoy this tranquil inspiring world heritage setting - there is no finer place on a glorious summer weekend and I promise you that Blenheim Palace will amaze you if you have not been before - as will our "Buy One Day - Get 12 Months Free!" offer which continues to go from strength to strength.

I promise to write again soon - have a good weekend!


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Gardening Excellence!

On Monday evening, my wife and I were very lucky to be able to attend the Gala Preview evening at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show - the weather held fine (just!) and despite being borderline freezing cold for May, it was a wonderful evening.

This show is the ultimate "best in class" and it reaches world class levels of horticultural excellence. For someone without a green finger or toe on either hand or foot, it is always good to see such effortless talent displayed for all to enjoy. Some of the show gardens were trully inspiring - the Eden Project Garden, the Perfume Garden, and the Daily Telegraph Garden all stood out amongst an impressive selection. The Gold Medal proudly displayed on the James May Plasticine Garden also caught the eye - sad that it was only made out of plasticine but you had to smile! And finally, did the organisers find the second gnome that was apparently smuggled onto site and onto one of the gardens - strictly taboo for any gnome to be seen on site and an annual battle!

One small aside made me smile and restored some faith in the world of celebrities - at least in part. My wife and I were in the queue to enter the show and to have bags checked, etc when a large rolls royce pulled up near the entrance gates. Cliff Richard and Cilla Black got out of the car and were greeted by a couple who were clearly waiting to meet them. Entrance tickets, etc were exchanged and all four of them then without hesitation strolled back past us to the back of the queue in order to take their turn to enter. Well done and thanks to them both - so many would have just entered!

Well done to the RHS for another stunning sell-out Chelsea Flower Show and for maintaining such fantastically high standards - I am sure many returned home with grand designs - me, I think the plasticine could work well!

Staying with the theme of gardens excellence, on Thursday next week we receive our Garden of the Year Award from the Historic Houses Association and Christie's - we are so proud to receive this prestigious award in it's 25th year and it is a wonderful credit to Trevor and Hilary Wood (our Head Gardeners) and their excellent and highly dedicated team. Thursday is for them and I hope they will bask in the attention they deserve - and hopefully the surrounding publicity will drive yet more visitors to see our wonderful gardens.

We go into another bank holiday weekend with a brand new craft show - "Art, Design and a Taste of Summer" - on offer for our visitors. The site looks fantastic, the line up of exhibitors is very strong and there is lots to see and do each day - add fine weather to this mix and we should have a very good weekend?

Fox have now moved off site after three weeks here filming scenes for "Gullivers Travels" and it is nice to have our car parks and courtyards back in our control and clear of film company clutter - that said, we enjoyed having them with us and they were highly professional at all times. Hopefully the film will be strong and good for Blenheim Palace when it launches in Summer 2010 - we will have to wait and see!

The sad news of the week was the cancellation of the planned "Festival for Heroes" outdoor concert which was planned to take place on Saturday 20 June 2009 to raise significant monies for the Royal British Legion. Despite herculean efforts from the organisers, the ticket sales were poor - no doubt reflecting the economic times that we are all trading in at present - and this has led them to take the painful decision to pull the plug. Very disappointing for all concerned but hopefully we may be able to resurrect this for 2010 - fingers crossed - as it would have done so much good in so many areas.

Works on the Blenheim Dam have started (more on that in future blogs) and Dom + Roger continue to push on with their punishing training schedule ahead of Saturday 6 June 2009 when they compete in the Blenheim Triathlon - huge respect and admiration - well done to both!

Have a great long relaxing sunny bank holiday weekend - and enjoy delivering your own version of gardening excellence!

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Ants Nest!

Wow - what a busy week - full of diversity and full of lots of people very energetically going about their business - hence the ants nest analogy!

Fox have carried on filming all week (despite the attempts of the weather to disrupt scheduling, etc with the odd sharp shower!) and we are virtually at the end of their stay here at Blenheim Palace. It is a very large crew and it has been impressive (if not slightly daunting!) to watch the hard work being applied by the various skilled technicians on site - hopefully the end product will justify the time, energy and investment; and hopefully Blenheim Palace will be magnificently showcased when "Gulliver's Travels" launches in Summer 2010.

The last two days have seen them filming inside the Palace (yes, that was a basketball hoop that appeared in the Long Library in front of Queen Anne!) and we took the difficult decision to close the Palace to the public on these two days as it was impossible to run both operations side by side. The response from our visitors has been on the whole fantastic and I apologise for the disruption and inconvenience that has arisen - such decisions are always a difficult balance but hopefully they have been taken in the best interests of the Palace and its future.

The film company pull off site early next week and we then face the challenge in re-presenting every area of the Palace, Gardens and Park in pristine condition ahead of the next Bank Holiday weekend - yes, another one is already virtually upon us.

I was very lucky on Wednesday to be able to look down from a penthouse balcony onto the emerging Olympic site - what an amazing construction site. It looked like a crazy ants nest - with activity in every direction and with flashing yellow hazard lights on millions of dumper trucks, etc and with people moving and working in every direction. It looked very inspiring and the assurance that everything was on time (not sure I heard mention about budget!) was encouraging to hear ahead of their frenetic run in to 2012. The facilities will be world class - but I remain to be convinced that the legacy plan is robust enough and that the fantastic structures can secure meaningful, worthy and sustainable uses going forward. Much of the Athens Olympic site is lying unused, derelict and neglected - that risk must be avoided in London.

The opportunity to see the Olymic site - via East London's waterways into Prescott Channel - was facilitated through the 61st ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) Council meeting which I attended as a representative of The Treasure Houses of England. The excellent day culminated with dinner at the Hall of the Waterman's Company and we were treated to a wonderful spread and excellent hospitality - formed in 1555, The Company of Waterman and Lightermen of the River Thames are steeped in history including the latest winner of the Doggett Coat and Badge!

The weather forecast is not great - and an inch of rain last night is not good for tourism (but great for farmers as my late father would have said and as the Duke said this morning!) - but hopefully the weekend trading will be strong as we move forward from the filming disruption and positively into some strong summer events - starting with a new craft show - "Art, Design and A Taste of Summer" on the Whitsun weekend - sunshine please and lots of it!

Good luck to Paul Orsi (our Rural Enterprises Manager) who is running this weekend in the British Heart Foundation - Blenheim 10k Bolt fun run to raise money in memory of our dear friend and colleague - Tony White - who passed away recently. Go Paul - we are all proud of you!

And so the ants carry on bustling away - I am sure the olympic site will only get busier as every day draws the site closer to Summer 2012 and I hope that Blenheim Palace will continue to enjoy success and lots of bustling activity through our strong connection with our growing annual pass database and through our excellent special event programme to be rolled out over the coming weeks.

And its off to the Chelsea Flower Show (another very bustling site) on Monday - but more about that next week!

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Storm clouds

Friday afternoon and we are sat here with fingers crossed that the clouds will clear and that the high winds will drop - all necessary to support the second night shoot in the Palace Great Court for the "Gulliver's Travels" production by Fox. They shot through the night last night and the weather did everything possible to conspire against them - wind + rain is far from ideal if you are filming a delicate banqueting scene outdoors and everyone is dressed in period costume with extensive hair and make-up creations! But they got through last night just about OK and we just hope that all of their hard work is rewarded this evening with workable conditions for what they require.

The Great Court looks absolutely amazing - very heavily dressed with additional trees and foliage and a massive banqueting table - and the Palace is very heavily lit with flambeau's on the roof to add atmosphere and effect. It is an absolutely stunning set and we are excited about the positive exposure that we will enjoy when the film finally launches next summer. It is a great fun production but the quality and professionalism of everyone (and there are lots and lots of them!) employed on set is amazing - an impressive industry and this is real five star top quality.

The "stars" appear very happy and their frequent appearances in Woodstock and around the Palace are hugely entertaining for visitors and for locals alike - they are with us through next week as well and we enjoy having them with us.

The week has raced by after the bank holiday weekend - despite all necessary prayers having been offered, the bank holiday weather was decidely dodgy - the sunshine on Saturday turned to rain and cold weather by the Monday but our numbers were very strongly up year-on-year mainly due to a large take-up from our annual pass holders. The connection with Blenheim Palace from this new "audience" is very powerful and we expected the jousting weekend to be popular - but probably not that popular as thousands arrived on the Sunday and Monday despite the less than perfect weather. We handled the crowds reasonably well (thanks to an amazing effort from everyone in Operations, Retail and Visitor Catering - well done and thanks to three great teams!) but there was still inevitable congestion from having so many people on site each day - we need to work on some logistical improvements for the next jousting tournaments in August 2009 in order to better cope across site and to deliver a better experience for everyone. That said, we have only had positive feedback from visitors with some wonderful unsolicited emails and letters - this means so much to everyone as it is all too often these days that we are quick to criticise but slow to praise. Thank you to those who took the trouble to give us this feedback.

The jousting entertainment went well with 6 shows over the three days - they do give it everything (as evidenced by the dislocated shoulder on the first day to one of the young knights!) and I am sure they go home black and blue. The knights that is - not the horses! The falconry shows are always an excellent curtain raiser for the jousting and hugely popular - but for the first time this year the first day saw the very first bird leave the handlers arm and diassapear out of sight over the distant trees like a rocket - not good for a spectator show and not a good start! Any amount of high pitched whistling and shouting failed to get it to return although various other high level passing birds were wrongly identified by the optimistic falconer as he tried to hold it together. It was eventually caught later on using a tracker device but not quite what was planned! That said, the overall quality of the 6 falconry shows was amazing and everyone was spellbound as bird after bird performed athletically (or should that be balletically) above their heads.

The week has seen the licence application for the "Festival for Heroes" Concert on Saturday 20 June 2009 granted by the local authority after a successful consultation period which attracted no objections from those in the locality - a very pleasing outcome and clear evidence that this well intentioned event (targetting to raise £1m for the Royal British Legion) has good local support. It now needs to drive its marketing awareness and to push ticket sales along towards the capacity limit of 29,999 persons attending - lots of activity to come on this front over the coming weeks.

And so will the storm clouds move away to support the filming - clouds appear to be moving - sadly still driven too fast by strong winds - but there is still time for the wind to drop.

If only we could control the weather - life would be so much easier - especially for the leisure industry!

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Anonymous James Hargreaves said...

can't wait til festival for heroes!

May 8, 2009 at 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it so difficult to put your address and postcode on the website?.

May 10, 2009 at 4:31 AM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Many thanks for both comments.

The Festival for Heroes is an exciting and very worthy event that we hope will achieve + exceed it targets for the benefit of the Royal British Legion.

Our address and postcode is on every page of the website at the bottom other than on the blog pages. This is because these pages are hosted externally by Apologies for that inconvenience but we will see if we can get it rectified.

Thanks again for the feedback


May 15, 2009 at 4:41 AM  

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Hollywood knights!

Blenheim Palace has been transformed into a Hollywood film set as Fox commenced filming here yesterday for their new blockbuster - "Gulliver's Travels" - for release Summer 2010. A huge basketball court has appeared inside The Great Court which is totally confusing and mystifying our visitors - especially those from overseas - but we hope that the buzz and excitement caused by the huge film crew plus lots of very famous "faces" wandering around will help to mitigate any concern from visitors that their visit has been affected. Was that the "Big Yin" over there; did I hear someone say "Am I bovvered?"; is that a "Young Victoria"?; sounds like "King Fu Panda" is in the Great Court??? It is always a fine balance - there is no doubt that it is very instrusive but it also a glimpse into a fascinating world that is rarely seen and the revenue from their time here plus the profile gained around the launch of the film next summer are both big positives. With over a £1m to be spent on the Blenheim Dam restoration this summer, we need revenue opportunities like this despite the inconvenience that may arise. Heather Carter (our unflappable Head of Operations) is doing a fantastic job to balance our customer service delivery alongside the operational challenges - and her team are responding magnificently. Fox are with us for another couple of weeks so this is just the start - but we will work very hard to satisfy everybody wherever possible.

Having achieved a successful Easter weekend, we are again heading into a bank holiday weekend and (thank goodness!) the weather forecast is reasonably positive. We are hosting the "Knights of Royal England" here for three days of spectacular jousting tournaments on the South Lawn. A really great family event with two jousting displays each day (at 12.30pm and at 3.00pm) and two falconry shows beforehand at 12.00noon and 2.30pm each day. The South Front of Blenheim Palace sits as a magnificent backdrop for the jousting and hopefully everyone will have a fun time - armies of young soldiers - "Soldiers of the King" - are created and swords + shields are seen in abundance. Not a time to turn your back on the young army as you tend to get prodded!

Slightly bizarrely, we are being used by the BBC Politics Show on Sunday for their live regional broadcast - and they have requested to be positioned right by the jousting arena! So as they cut to the regions "live" at 12.30pm, the mounted knights will be entering the arena to a blast of noise - maybe this means that politics can move to the "tilting arena" and MP's can in future battle it out through a jousting tournament - best man or woman wins! Makes the voting system much easier!

The past week has seen the usual mix of diversity - on Monday we had a catch up on the forthcoming Triathlon (6 + 7 June) with IMG (the organisers) and numbers are at record levels with over 5000 people entered - including our intrepid FD whose training regime (and damaged thumb) causes us growing concern! On Tuesday I chaired an Oxfordshire Economic Partnership Tourism Task Group meeting with excellent representation from across the county - interesting times as we look to harmonise the tourism assets across the city, districts and county. Watch this space for more news as there does appear to be a unified determination to take this forward into a new workable structure that must be good for everyone connected with tourism.

Best wishes to all for an excellent and relaxing bank holiday weekend - hopefully watching the jousting at Blenheim Palace under clear blue sky!


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