The Joy of Sets! The Glamour!!

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I have quite often said on the 30th hour of a 12 hour shift I am only in this business for the glamour! The real truth is, I am, well at least partly. I am unashamedly proud of the live events I have been part of and have been lucky enough to witness, a lot of them with the feeling, we made that.

It’s always difficult to explain our industry to anyone in the pub who casually asks what you do for a living, because it is so far vast an industry. It encapsulates so many elements, but I generally have to say I build exhibition stands which gives people a satisfactory answer. Whilst exhibitions is part of our offerings at Penhaligon Event Consultants we have been involved in so many different elements over the years and some of them are more glamorous than others.

So, whether its sitting in the VVIP area for an Olympic opening ceremony with rock stars and royalty, having just man showered using the ice from the Coke fridges in the hospitality lounge you have just finished building, or its standing in the Dubai desert watching an amazing firework display silhouetting a life size 4 turreted castle which three weeks before hadn’t existed because it is made from 45 tonnes of polystyrene, that feeling of wow has never left.

We worked for a while for an agency doing exclusive events for an exclusive phone company. The events were beautifully designed in stylish locations with A list celebrities flown in from around the world and the environments we created suited their show biz status. Standing back after what were pretty gruelling installs due to building availability etc you could see what we created was pretty special. It felt special too, when you were eventually in the bar! Even though your feet and back were aching from pounding concrete floors all day, you had splinters in any exposed skin and sore knees from laying two miles of red carpet, the feeling of great achievement never left. Working at that level has its price though and over delivering to meet the clients brief is always a problem, so although not hugely financially viable in the long term, they were projects I am immensely proud of and secured our ability in other peoples’ eyes, to perform at that level.

We have designed and built many Olympic sponsor hospitality suites over the years and working for the IOC as an end client was a great challenge. The IOC Club we designed and built in Torino for the winter games in 2006 was set in the centre of Torino in the newly restored Palazzao Madama. The building had cult status for being the first parliament building of a united Italy but for us it was more known for having one of the minis drive down its internal staircase in the Italian Job! A meticulously refurbished building has its challenges to design a suitable club lounge that caters daily for 1500 people for food and drinks. With the guidance of the late David Grant and his team from Sydney, we built what I think was our finest work at the time. To then have it opened by super model Cindy Crawford , whom I had earlier turned away at the door because we weren’t open and I didn’t recognise her, making her late for the guided tour of the building and the opening, was the icing on the cake.

A more recent project saw us in Abu Dhabi for Stage One Creative Services. I was working as the site construction manager for the install of an art installation by Ralf Helmick for the Founders Memorial. It was a very straight forward install on paper, made all the better for Stage One’s ability to engineer the impossible, but as projects go in the UAE in late summer, with the heat, shifting sand and a full on building site to contend with, it had its challenges. We were there for around 10 weeks and being ginger, the sun is not my friend, couple that with immense tiredness and the removing sand from parts of you in the shower where you didn’t know you had parts, it takes its toll. But, when the artists representative turned up to tweak the design and alter some of the 1110 wires and its objects that recreate the face of Sheik Zayed, the founder of the modern UAE, it finally made sense. The first moment when it was lit, at a murky 02.00, to stop photos reaching the internet, it took my breath away. It was a real privilege to have seen it for the first time lit and watch it come from paper to a reality and to know that it will be there for a long time to come. It is a world beating 30m plus high sculpture and I had been part of the team that made it happen and that feeling was very warming. Sadly, we lost a team member during that project (not work related) and we toasted him when we returned to the hotel for a wine with our breakfast with an enormous feeling of having achieved something quite remarkable.

When your childhood aspirations were to be a song and dance man like Gene Kelly, a dream I partly achieved, but I was no dance man, this industry has to be the closest a shit dancer would come to achieving that glamour.

I have been lucky enough to be part of a lot of stunning projects and that is hopefully what we are working towards getting back to, globally. As the supposed green shoots start, lets hope the sharp transition to virtual events we have seen, doesn’t suck out the amazing feeling of having live events come up from the page and wow us as we leave tired and gagging for the first pint.

Pictures: Shutterstock and Richard Penhaligon.

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