How to prom when you can’t prom

Just a quick note to say that I went to the BBC Proms last week. Overall, the experience wasn’t bad – I’d give it a 6/10 for accessibility.

Can you still prom when you can’t prom?

I’d been really anxious about whether I could still prom, now that I can’t stand up for more than half a minute. The main things I wanted to keep the same were:

  • I wanted to be in the Arena (the big round bit on the ground floor), where tickets are cheapest and the view is best.
  • I wanted to be with my three friends for as much of the evening as possible
  • I wanted to sit down for the whole concert without any conflict

How to do it:

To start with, I filled out an online form on the RAH website, stating my needs. This was easy, and the next day, a nice young man phoned to talk about it and to give me the front of house’s email. I emailed her to explain my needs. She was unable to reply in time, but on phoning the accessibility helpline on the day before the concert, everything got sorted out.

On arrival at the queue at 4pm, the stewards knew my name and brought me a wheelchair to sit in while I queued. You have to be in the first 100 for all the accessibility things to work in time – I was 35th, so that was fine. As it was quiet, it was really easy to make sure my friends got raffle tickets indicating their rightful place in the queue, and then they could actually spend nearly all of the queuing time at the top of the stairs talking to me in the sunshine.  Thanks to someone in the queue pointing out when the ticket sellers had nearly walked past me (!) I was sold a ticket

What not to do next:

We got distracted by a pre-concert talk be John Le Carre. Him what wrote all the spy novels. At this point the wheelchair revealed its limitations – a transport chair which someone else pushes you in isn’t really built with any suspension, so going down the hill to the RCM and back up again afterwards were pretty painful. Getting into the RCM was physically easy, but the staff weren’t very quick off the mark – I needed to be accompanied everywhere with various keys that nobody seemed to have – they clearly hadn’t anticipated any wheelchair users coming to the talk. The route was step-free, but one cupboard the lift came out into was cluttered with stuff such that I could barely leave the lift without bashing my legs on it. So legally, yes, the building is accessible, but practically speaking, it took ages and was fairly frustrating.

On arriving back at the RAH:

We were escorted into the first lift, but then waited for about 5-10 minutes at the top of a second lift, which would take us down to the arena. In this time, all the people who I was meant to get into the arena ahead of, in order to get a seat, filed past me and down the steps, while we waited for a steward with keys. Once down, there was only one disabled loo next to blocks of 8 or so ladies and gents, so after waiting a while I gave up hope of it ever being vacated and wobbled off to the ladies. All of these delays meant that by the time we walked up a short flight of steps and got in, not only the advance queue but also the main queue had walked in – we were in fact the last to get into the arena, when the plan was to be the first. There were no seats left.

However, the staff and stewards at the RAH were all wonderful, very well trained, polite and charming. It took a while to get there, but when I did, the head steward on the Arena floor took all the conflict out of the situation by himself asking seated non-disabled people if they would give up their seat, while I was some way away. This took out the possibility for the ‘I don’t believe she’s really disabled’ looks that you get, and meant a seat was made available. While I waited for a seat, I did have a bit of a wobble and had to lean on my friend so I didn’t fall over, as by this time I was exhausted from half an hour of being wheeled places. But I then got a seat, and all was well.

Cue over-aggressive disabled lady:

Apparently, all the other disabled people had been let in at 6pm, well before anyone else, in order to get their seats. I didn’t know this. It may have happened while I was at the pre-concert talk, which I’d been told would finish in time for me to get in early. It may have been while I was waiting for one of many lifts. I had given my mobile number to the lovely steward on the door, so if she saw the disabled people going in without me, she could ring me. But anyway, I hadn’t got there before everyone, not for lack of trying. But the others had sat there for the last half hour, and didn’t like my turning up at the last minute and claiming a seat when I hadn’t come in with them. A long tirade of how the system worked was given to me, quite forcefully, by a loud disabled lady who stood over me in my seat. At this stage, I was too worn out to say anything, and after I’d listened politely for a while, getting ever more exhausted, one of my friends stepped in to ask her to stop. That persuasive but firm stepping in that curates learn to steer the over-talkative lady away from the vicar as a queue is forming. Luckily, my friend was formerly a curate.

Success!

The seats are quite comfortable. My three friends stood next to my seat. Perhaps too close – in the interval, they sat in a scholarly manner at my feet asking for words of wisdom. I couldn’t see the stage, but they can’t bend light round a corner, not even for me. Facing sideways isn’t the best for the sound, but the percussion gets a good echo off the back wall. The concert was lovely and fat and Russian, and getting out of the building went without a hitch.

Top tips:

  • Phone ahead
  • Take a friend to advocate for you, push you, find stewards, ward off shouty women etc
  • Talk to the staff if something goes wrong, they are totally amazing.