London’s Las Vegas

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There’s a huge roundabout at the southern end of Westminster Bridge in London on which for some time sat a building that appeared permanently covered in scaffolding whenever I passed it. And, whenever I did, I remember thinking what a painfully awkward place to have a building, how do you get to it? Then someone told me it was the old County Hall. Well, that made perfect sense; house an administrative building on a roundabout that no-one can get to. Then cover it in scaffolding. Pretty much sums up city politics. Still, I did always wonder what it was going to be once that scaffolding came off…

Natalie Cole at The Plaza Westminster

So when Jonesy dropped an invitation on my desk to the inaugural Live from the Plaza event – an evening of dinner and entertainment – at the ‘Park Plaza County Hall’ my first thought was, County Hall? Since when did they call it The Plaza? And it doubled the intrigue when it came to the event in question: ’The Legendary Natalie Cole launches Live from the Plaza’. Crikey, Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat King. Singing at the County Hall. How very Rat Pack.

It transpired that the County Hall had become a hotel. Well, that would explain it. I can’t remember having been to a ‘new’ hotel before, certainly not one that literally must have opened merely days prior. So new was it that the staff didn’t know where everything was. Our first ten minutes were spent being directed over four floors to the cloakroom. “There’s one on the basement, sir”. Then, once in the basement, “It’s on the ground floor, sir”. Then, on the ground floor, “It’s in the lobby, sir.”

Westminster Park PlazaStill, all that riding up and down the escalator gave us a terrific view of the Houses of Parliament through the huge façade window as well as a chance to get acquainted with all the features. Everything about it gleamed new and trendy and minimalist. Come to think of it, ‘minimalist’ is an understatement, the furniture was minimal. Had we wanted to sit down in the foyer we would have been fifty feet apart. I concluded it was so new they hadn’t finished moving it all in. The point being I was delighted to be in a new hotel.

With such excitement giving us the spring in our step, Mrs Larry and I bounded back down the escalator from the cloakroom (on the ground floor, I might add) where, outside the ballroom located on level -3 [Note to Editor: that’s not a typo, that’s a ‘minus‘ symbol] we waited for our names to be checked off. How can a ballroom be in a basement? And a third level basement for that matter? Well might you ask for as we entered the cavernous room I don’t imagine I was the only person to wonder. But, before I get to that, a word about the reception – after the customary mix up with guest lists, we were politely escorted to a champagne reception where, halfway through a curious panna cotta style canapé, Mrs L prodded my ribs and pointed out a familiar face in the crowd. I looked up and there was Bruce Forsyth. Nice to see him, to see him nice but please don’t let him get up on stage and start tap-dancing with Natalie.

Westminster Park Plaza BallroomSome gentle conversation with fellow journalists ensued before we were escorted into the ballroom. My preconceptions of this being an intimate dinner with a bit of jazz were gently brushed aside as we were assigned our table:
“Table fifty, sir”
“Table fifteen? Right-ho”
“No, sir, table number fifty.”
“Fifty?!”

Caramba! Some dining room. As we entered I realised that wasn’t even the last table on the list, wedged into a corner somewhere with the other unwelcome members of the press. There must have been over seventy tables (each of ten) in this cavernous venue and my image of 1930s Savoy was being swiftly replaced with 1950s Vegas. Make that 1970s. The boxed ceiling was trimmed with blue neon and the air permeated with a delicate spritz of dry ice. Luckily we weren’t wedged into a corner but, it would appear, given almost pride of place in the middle of the room. As I sat down, I noticed Bruce pass us and purposefully head for the stage. Oh, no. Perhaps he’s the warm-up act? But he sat down at a table just in front. Phew.

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