Friday, December 18, 2009

Not many "sleeps" to Christmas!

This time of the year adopts a rather unreal feel as the "big day" looms closer and less work seems to be done each day!

The excitement is building in the Hoy household and my girls break up from school today - not a moment too soon as they are both pooped after a long and busy term.

This week alone has seen the following highlights:

>> Monday - Seasonal Staff Christmas Lunch in the Orangery. An excellent and well-earned opportunity to say a very big thank-you to the army of part-time staff who work within Operations and Retail. Every one of them makes a full contrinution towards delivering a wonderful experience to every visitor - their knowledge, their passion and their loyalty towards Blenheim Palace is first class. We again thank them for all their hard work through a busy year.

>> Tuesday - sneaked off to London to do some shopping - but don't tell the wife in case she gets too excited!

>> Wednesday - a busy day in the office - "Secret Santa" visited and delivered a much needed new pair of skiing socks (will be put to good use in the New Year) followed by a lunch out in Woodstock with the Marketing Team to say thankyou for all their hard work this year. The evening saw us heading in to London to see Annabelle sing with the Dragon School Choir in the Nordoff Robbins Christmas Concert in St Luke's Church, Chelsea. A fantastic event - with stars such as Alexandra Burke, Bill Nighy, and many others performing - but the real stars were the Dragon School - of course! Annabelle was very pleased to get Alexandra Burke's autograph and is very chuffed to have sung on the same stage as an X-Factor Winner!

>> Thursday - a day of mixed emotions - started in the dentist's chair, continued with the Christmas Managers Lunch (at which the Hoy Christmas Quiz was "enjoyed" by all - well by most anyway!!); carried on with the Middle School Christmas Concert at the Dragon (with Annabelle both singing and playing!) and ended exhausted on the sofa watching "Gavin and Stacey"

>> Friday - and into Friday when the girls break up from school. Both are on sleepovers tonight (but Annabelle has another Chamber Choir Concert at St Andrews Church in Oxford beforehand) ahead of the Dragon Sale back at school tomorrow. This event raises a staggering £100k or so for charity in 4 hours - amazing generosity - but Tracy will be glad to get it behind her as she is involved in running the sale for the first time this year. We are both off to a lovely party near Cheltenham this evening (weather permitting) so she can forget about the sale for a few hours!

After Saturday, Tracy and the girls can rest up until the "big day" and the "sleeps" countdown gets very exciting!

The year has flown by but I hope that everyone reading this has a well deserved break over christmas and that the christmas and new year time is both happy and rewarding for all.

Enjoy everything and re-charge batteries ahead of the new year challenges.

Many thanks for all the support that we have enjoyed from so many sources this year - not least the 97,000+ annual pass holders who have connected so positively with Blenheim Palace in 2009 - hopefully your new year resolution will be to connect again in 2010.

Take care and have fun!

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last weekend - the 2009 Awards!

As we enter the last weekend of the Palace season, it is appropriate to look back on a busy year and to reflect upon the highlights - and challenges - through the year.

A summary of the 2009 Awards follows:

The Newcomer of the Year Award
Awarded to the amazing Annual Pass Scheme that has blown us all away during 2009. We are currently at around 95,000 members since this was launched back in February - a fantastic achievement and a very positive relaunch of our local profile - we hope everyone will re-connect with us and with an Annual Pass in 2010.

The "bounce-back" Award
Goes this year to the International Horse Trials held in September which "bounced back" from a washed-out event in 2008 - 4 days of fine weather delivered a very successful horse trials from everyone's point of view.

The "Little and Large" Location Award
Goes to 2oth Century Fox and their filming of Gulliver's Travels here at Blenheim Palace. Jack Black will star as Gulliver when this film launches Christmas 2010 but the real star will be Blenheim Palace - we enjoyed having them with us and we will enjoy being portayed as the Lilliputian Palace - home to Billy Connolly (King) and Catherine Tate (Queen)

The Umbrella Award
Is shared between a very wet Triathlon in June and the whole month of November - which was apparently over 200% up on the 27 year average for rainfall! The Triathlon was a phenomenal success despite the weather - but we hope for slightly better weather in 2010.

The "Wish you were here" Award
Goes to the "Festival for Heroes" event which tried to stage a concert in June to raise monies for the Royal British Legion but which failed to sell enough tickets and which ended up being cancelled - a great shame as it would have been a great day and it would have helped a very worthwhile cause. Maybe they will try again?

The "don't mention The Caravan Club" Award
Goes to The Camping and Caravanning Club who held their annual "Feast of Lanterns" rally at Blenheim Palace in August - a very well organised event and a great pleasure for us to host them this year.

The "could have done better" Award
Goes to Lancelot "Capability" Brown for not building the crest of the Blenheim Dam slightly higher (in the 1760's) so as to ensure compliance with the Reservoirs Act 1975! But he does get many commendations for the excellence of everything else he achieved!

The Environment Agency Award
Goes to all internal and external staff who worked on the restoration work surrounding the Blenheim Dam - a well organised and a well delivered project that has secured the future stability of the Dam for many future decades. Well done to Roger File, Chris Keeler and everyone at Bentleys.

The "cool dude" Award
Goes to Sean - the Bentley's Site Manager on the Dam Project - totally unflappable - and now on his annual sojourn in the Caribbean

The Bravery Awards
Tony White's wife and family, Paul Duffie, Veronica Thorneloe, the Frost Family - our thoughts and prayers are with them all as they remember loved ones at Christmas

The PR Award
Goes to David Cameron - our local MP - for quickly involving the Chinese Ambassador in a tree planting ceremony here at Blenheim last month and quickly naming the tree as the "Chinese Friendship Tree" - inspired thinking and we look forward to many visiting groups for China to see the tree as it grows!

The list could go on - but it has been a very memorable year where much has been achieved. We started the year not quite knowing what would happen but a combination of the "staycation" factor alongside the strength of the annual pass offer has delivered some fantastic results.

This has stretched our resources at times and it has certainty stretched our staff resources (and their patience!) through a long season - a huge thankyou to all of our staff for their huge input in delivering such high levels of customer service excellence throughout the year.

And so the Palace closes on Sunday evening and we then have two months to deep clean every nook and cranny - to both pass and satisfy any Ducal inspection - before we open again on Saturday 13 February 2010!

And so the cycle continues ...........

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Great man!

Since my last post, the anniversary has been and gone surrounding the birth of Sir Winston Churchill.

On 30 November 1874, 135 years ago, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill arrived into the world here at Blenheim Palace - Blenheim's most famous son actually arrived several weeks early as his parents, Randolph and Jennie Spencer-Churchill, were weekending here at Blenheim - a very happy "accident" from our point of view and one that we 'celebrate' as actively as we can.

Much has been written about Sir Winston and he was of course voted as "our Greatest Briton of all time" in a poll conducted a few years ago. He was also the first man to be made an honorary citizen of the United States - by an Act of Congress on 9 April 1963 just two years or so before his death in January 1965.

His curls are on display in the Palace alongside other exhibits surrounding his very close ties with the Palace and with the family but it is on the wider international stage that his fame will stand forever.

He entered parliament at the age of 26 in 1900 having already distinguished himself as a soldier in several wars - he proceeded to hold a number of important ministerial posts over the next 55 years.

When World War II came to Britain in 1939, his authority and his oratory held great sway and his time as Prime Minister (1940-45) helped to turn the tide - who will ever forget his "We shall never surrender" speech on 4 June 1940 following the evacuation of trapped Allied Forces from the beaches at Dunkirk.

Sir Winston achieved so much and he possessed a sharp wit; he achieved a world reputation not only as a gifted strategist and inspiring war leader but also as a great orator, a talented painter and a stylish writed with a profound sense of history.

History will forever record his importance on the world stage and his influence today is as powerful as ever - his connection with Blenheim Palace (he was born here; he proposed to Clementine here; and he is buried nearby in Bladon) still acts as a powerful magnate to so many.

We receive many visitors from North America, and increasingly from the Far East/China, all hungry to explore the Churchill connection and we hugely value every visit and we strive to make every visit as memorable as we can. Indeed a recent delegation from China suggested that we should drop any reference to Blenheim Palace and merely promote Winston Churchill!

The Churchill influence also manifests itself in other powerful ways.

I met this week with a serving RAF Officer who wants special permission to propose to his girlfriend in the Temple of Diana in the Formal Gardens to the south of the Palace on one of our remaining open days before christmas - this is where Sir Winston proposed to Clementine on 11 August 1908. I need to be careful not to spoil their surprise by revealing too much, but both of them are serving officers in todays armed forces and they are both still hugely influenced and inspired by Sir Winston Churchill and his heroic deeds - wartime deeds that is not just the 'getting engaged bit!'.

We will make a very special exception for these special people - we feel it is our duty to do so - partly in memory of Sir Winston but also in recognition of the many challenges faced today by our armed forces around the world - and particularly in Afghanistan.

We will make it a very special moment for them and one that they will remember forever - I am sure that Sir Winston and 'Clemmie' would approve - and of course I hope his 'intended' says yes!

What a special time of the year as we remember a Great Man.

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