Royal Albert Hall members accused of cashing in on seats for charity gigs

<span>Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend performing at a Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010.</span><span>Photograph: Yui Mok/PA</span>
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend performing at a Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010.Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The Royal Albert Hall is embroiled in a scandal after its wealthy members were accused of using their dedicated ticket allocation to profit from celebrity charity performances for young cancer patients.

Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of the Who, who performed this spring for the Teenage Cancer Trust, questioned the morals of those involved, while the charity lamented that members’ tickets had been sold for “private gain”.

Under the Royal Albert Hall’s contentious model of ownership, a quarter of its 5,272 seats are the property of the 316 successors and heirs of the original subscribers who funded its establishment in 1867.

Many of the members allow use of their seats for charity performances to be sold by the ticket office for the benefit of good causes, but it has emerged that others have cashed in by selling them on a ticketing website. Tickets for performances by The Who in March were offered for £139 on one such site, Hoorah.

Richard Lyttelton, a former president of the Royal Albert Hall, addressed the issue in evidence at a House of Lords session examining potential changes to the venue’s constitution.

“A few weeks ago there was a charity concert given by members of the Who at the Albert Hall,” Lyttelton told peers. “The artists gave their performance and actually sponsored, effectively, the whole concert. Certain members felt it wholly appropriate because they are investors to sell their tickets for their own benefit. Now that, I think, does illustrate the kind of mindset.”

Daltrey, 80, who formally stood down this spring from his role curating the charity concerts after 24 years, said the attitude of some members was a “major issue”.

“They are obviously within their rights to keep their tickets, but whether it is morally right or wrong is a different thing,” he said. “It is unfortunate what has been going on. It’s a moral issue. If I was the boss of the Albert Hall I would make it clear that this would be a nice thing to do [to stop it].”

A spokesperson for the Teenage Charity Trust said: “Over the years many members who haven’t been able to attend the shows have supported the charity by donating their seats to us to sell, helping us fund our work supporting teenagers and young people with cancer. We would of course encourage members unable to attend the shows to donate their tickets to Teenage Cancer Trust and not sell these for private gain.”

The hall cost about £200,000 to be built in the 1860s, a quarter of which was raised from the Great Exhibition of 1851. The rest came from private subscribers paying £100 for a seat, £500 for a private box of five seats or £1,000 for a box of 10. The subscribers were given a perpetual transferable right to a seat or seats in the hall.

Buyers of seats included the royal family. There remain members who are relatives of the original subscribers but others include banks that have paid more than £150,000 for membership and regard their purchase as an investment.

Tickets for high-profile events such as Last Night of the Proms have turned up for sale on sites such as Viagogo for thousands of pounds. Members also use Hoorah, a bespoke site, to sell their tickets.

The hall is run as a charitable foundation maintained by the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences. Among the owners of seats are trustees of the corporation who guide policy at the hall. There is no suggestion that the trustees have sold tickets to charity events.

The hall has resisted pressure to reform its membership system, which critics claim allows permanent ticket holders to run the venue as a “cash cow”.

Lyttelton, who was president of the hall in 2010, said: “As a member of the corporation I am deeply ashamed by the conduct of those currently in control of the Albert Hall. By using the charity’s resources to defend such blatant abuse of privilege, the hall’s council illustrates precisely why it is so ill-suited to govern this iconic national institution.”

In his evidence to the Lords, Lyttelton noted that the singer Ed Sheeran had been upset to discover that tickets to his performances at the hall were being sold by members for £6,000.

He said: “Ed Sheeran wrote to the hall and asked that members refrain from selling tickets to their seats at inflated prices. The reason for that was that he has great respect for his fans. When he was starting out, they supported him. And if you are a shopkeeper or a shop assistant in Barnsley, and you went to Ed Sheeran’s first concerts, he subsequently became enormously successful, and you then find that the only way you can get to see him is by forking out £6,000, basically you are excluded.”

The attorney general, Victoria Prentis, said recently that a parliamentary bill proposed by the hall to change its constitution was disappointing for its lack of ambition.

“It is widely acknowledged that the constitution of the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences gives rise to a potential conflict between the private interests of seat-holding trustees and the corporation’s charitable objects,” she wrote. “This potential conflict is of significant concern to the Charity Commission and many well-informed observers.”

A spokesperson for the Royal Albert Hall said: “The seatholders’ tickets are their private property and belong neither to the hall nor to the promoter of the event, and seatholders are entitled to use their tickets as they choose. Their rights derive from the pre-existing private rights of the seatholders arising at the time of the hall’s creation. They therefore do not deprive the charity or the concert promoter of ticket revenue when they sell their tickets.”

The spokesperson said the attorney general had not formally opposed their bill and “as such we hope the bill can pass through parliament unamended and unopposed”.

They added: “The hall’s unique governance model is a form of charitable/private partnership under which the members of the corporation (the seatholders) and the hall share mutual interests – the original members partially funded the hall’s construction, and we estimate that in 2023 the hall’s income benefited by some £4.4m, thanks to the ongoing voluntary support of the seatholders. Our bill simply provides a proper legal basis for this generosity to continue.”