As former RIBA venue head Petra Bones secures her dream job as new Head of Events for Banqueting House and Historic Royal Places, she talks to The Westminster Collection about the lure of the venue’s heritage, the challenge to keep pace with event buyer behaviour and her admiration for the late Neil Armstrong
Tell us about your move from RIBA to Banqueting House. What was your relationship with the venue prior to your move?
I have known Lin Kennedy [incumbent Head of Events at Banqueting House] through the events industry for several years and have been keeping an eye on her role, as I knew she was due to retire in late 2012. It’s a role I have always been keen to pursue and was delighted to be approached by Portfolio International on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces. I jumped at the chance to interview for the role.
What does this new role mean for you and your career, reflecting on your path up via Madame Tussauds?
This is a big role, both in terms of the responsibilities for the existing daytime visitor attraction and events business at the Banqueting House, but also as I will be heavily involved in the development of the Banqueting House over the next few years and act as Head of Events for Historic Royal Palaces as a whole.
However, I have been working towards this for some time. I started my venues/events career as Events Administrator at Madame Tussauds, left there four years later as Senior Event Manager, joined Somerset House in the same capacity and then got promoted to Head of Events. Three years on I took on the role of Head of Venues for the Royal Institute of British Architects and I am now ready to take on the prestigious (and challenging) role as Head of Banqueting House to consolidate my learnings in both visitor attractions and historic event spaces.
I am looking forward to again working with some of London’s top event suppliers in another stunning building.
What is it about the grandeur and setup of Banqueting House as an event venue that appeals to you?
The history and heritage of the building is a huge draw as although renowned for its architecture, Banqueting House is probably most famous for the execution of King Charles I.
The building is one of the first examples of the principles of Palladianism being applied to an English building and the original Peter Paul Rubens ceiling paintings provide a stunning backdrop for events and daytime visitors alike.
Banqueting House is surprisingly flexible, can host a variety of events and benefits from a large capacity and a wonderful location on Whitehall.
Have you identified any immediate opportunities to reshape the event offering at Banqueting House?
Not yet, but I officially take over on 1st October 2012, when Lin retires…
As part of the team that secured ‘Casa Brasil’ for Somerset House when you were Head of Events there, how do you now feel about the Olympic Games and what it has brought to London’s meetings and events industry?
I was sad to not to be at Somerset House for the Casa Brasil residency, as the team worked so hard to secure the contract and fought off a lot of competition to do so!
From my conversations with industry colleagues, there seems to be an element of relief that the Olympics are over, as whilst they have been a wonderful opportunity for a lot of suppliers and venues, they have also caused a lot of uncertainty.
However, I think the overwhelming feeling is one of pride. We always knew we could deliver the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ in the greatest city on Earth and now we have proved it!
For you, what makes Westminster stand out as a destination for meetings and events?
Location, location, location!
What changes have you seen in event buyer behaviour in your 12 years in the industry?
Event buyers are much more ‘savvy’ and confident nowadays; they know there’s a lot of competition and how to negotiate for the best rates as a result. They are knowledgeable about the industry and how flexible venues and suppliers need to be to secure business.
However, there no longer seems to be the buying ‘patterns’ and trends that we used to have and planning and forecasting are really challenging as a result.
Social media: relationship building with prospects or idle chit-chat amongst strangers?
Both! Idle chit-chat can build relationships and is much better than using social media solely for advertising and promotion.
Who’s the person you’d most like to meet?
Until recently it was Neil Armstrong. I would love to have met the first man on the moon and had a chance to speak to him about the adventure of it all. The trust he must have had in the NASA team to get him and the other astronauts safely into space, onto the moon and home again is incredible.
Which industry figure do you most admire and why?
Michael Aldridge, General Manager of Events for Merlin Entertainments. He has never been afraid to ask difficult questions, make difficult decisions, challenge ‘events myths’ and make the necessary changes to improve the business.
Petra Bones sits on The Westminster Collection’s marketing committee, helping to steer the future direction and strategy of the venue consortium.