Ladies and gentlemen, as Patron of The Royal Hall Restoration Trust, I cannot possibly begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be here today with all of you to see for myself the transformation that has been brought about in this magnificent building.
I came here, as some of you may remember, in July 2006 to see it for myself and, while there was obviously activity, enthusiasm and vision all over the place, it was little more than a shell. It took a certain amount of imagination to appreciate what it had been and what it could become once again. Indeed, when I stood on that stage just 18 months ago, I seem to remember I likened the Royal Hall to an elegant and once-lovely old lady who had fallen on hard times. As I look around now, I see she has been taken back in time to the beauty and splendour of her youth. The result is quite breath-taking and today the Royal Hall really is once again the “palace of glittering gold” that she was back in 1903.
I can’t help but think that Frank Matcham might possibly be looking down on this theatre today with the greatest possible satisfaction. Not only has an invaluable part of our nation’s architectural and historical heritage been saved but, of equal importance, this wonderful old building has been returned to the heart of the social, economic and cultural life of Harrogate, one of this country’s most special towns. And I do, if I may, congratulate all the performers today who have shown not only the talent that exists in the town, but also just how important this theatre is to the community and what a wonderful performance space it is that has now been brought back to life once again. It is, without doubt, one of our great national treasures.
But there is another national treasure with us today. She is the person who has had the seemingly unstoppable determination, courage, vision and utter indefatigability to make all this possible. Of course, I refer to the remarkable Lilian Mina and I can only imagine it was Harrogate’s most fortunate day when she decided to come and live here twenty-five years ago and no wonder you honoured her last year with the Freedom of the Town! She will tell you that it was the efforts of everyone else which made all this possible, but you will all know better than to believe her. I am only so pleased that her efforts were rewarded in the New Year’s Honours list. I do believe few people could deserve it more.
And it is marvellous of Joanna David to make the time in her busy rehearsal schedule to be here. Not only is she one of this country’s most special actresses, but she is also representing her husband, Edward Fox, whose great grandfather Samson Fox was so instrumental in the building of the Royal Hall when he was Mayor of Harrogate in the 1890s.
And of course no artistic event would be complete in Yorkshire without the legendary Dame Fanny Waterman who has done more for music in this county and, indeed, this country than almost anyone I can think of...
I do just want to say one more thing about this project. At a time when we constantly hear of major national projects being over-budget and late, this project has been an exemplar of how it should be done and so I just wanted to congratulate Harrogate Borough Council for their management of what, at the outset, must have appeared a daunting task. It employed outstanding people, but Lilian tells me there was another secret to the success and that was the degree of trust and co-operation that has existed between all the parties involved. Everyone has worked closely together as a team with good-will and mutual trust on all sides, and this has been central to bringing this project in on time and on budget and I really do think that those who have been responsible deserve our warmest congratulations.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I came here a year and a half ago I still cannot believe what has been done in such a short space of time! I saw the plaque outside which reads “The Royal Hall was created by far-sighted people as a mark of faith in the future of their town”. Today we are celebrating the inheritors of that vision Lilian Mina, Howard Hughes, Harrogate Borough Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the wonderfully generous donors, large and small and the builders and craftsmen most particularly who have worked so tirelessly and have put their hearts and souls into the building once again. You have shown your faith in the future of Harrogate and you have given to this Town, this remarkably special county and this country a gift of inestimable value.
And for that reason, Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing could give me greater pleasure than to declare The Royal Hall, Harrogate open.