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Bonnie Salih

What does your job consist of?

Duration: 0.26

 

Organising private events, corporate events and weddings from phone call to the event day. There’s lots involved in the process of that. Information is key, site visits – so that you can explain what areas are best used for what part of the event that they’re planning. 

How did you become a Sales & Events Coordinator?

Duration: 1.40

 

When my children were small, (I actually started here when my youngest son was one), the Navy were here at that time, and they used to have their three meals a day in the Painted Hall. So, I started here in 1990 waitressing.

If the Navy had an event on, then it would be silver service. But in the evenings, it was literally a meal service, then clearing down, wiping the tables, sweeping the floor, and then, out the back, you would then get everything ready for breakfast in the morning. And it was evenings only, half-six till half-nine. There were parts of the year that it was closed, and you’d be on a retainer. But it was four evenings a week, which worked well for me because I could do the school runs. In 1997, someone went sick in the MOD office, and they wanted someone to answer the phones. I used to work in a bank, so I’m used to that sort of thing, so I covered the phones for a few weeks, then the guy came back and then he went sick again, so I went back over there again. That was in the Queen Mary building at the time overlooking the car park. The Navy then left when the venue went commercial. It started with just three people, and it is what it is today.

What has been your favourite event here at the Old Royal Naval College? Why was it so special?

Duration: 01.33

 

For me it was the Lords Taverners event. I can’t remember the year we did that, but it must have been might have been 2000 or 19999 maybe. It was for Sir John Mills who is a patron of the Lord Taverners. He’s quite a famous actor. It was his 80th birthday I believe, and his 50th wedding anniversary so it was a big day for him.

They put on a big concert in the Chapel with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the piano. There were quite a few stars attending. His daughters are famous in their own right as well and their partners and everything else. But during the evening they had screens up and they were showing you his career over the years and films that he’d been in. His wife had really bad, I don’t know whether it was Dementia or Alzheimer’s but she wasn’t well at all. But she was sitting next to him at the piano and he was playing the piano and singing to her. I think she was oblivious to what was going on, but it was quite emotional. So, for me that was probably one that will always stick to my mind.

Working in a historical site – which is not necessarily built to host events – comes with its own challenges. Can you share one of the funniest anecdotes you have?

Duration: 01.12

 

Back in the day when I don’t think that lift had been in for very long and the event manager, Malcolm, at the time. It was a military event, so you had the orchestra all in their uniforms and everything and he said to them “do not get in more than four of you at a time because it’s temperamental”. And you can guess what happened…

They piled in with their instruments as well and then got stuck. But the only way to get the lift down was manually, so Malcolm then had to go into this room and physically wind down the lift. It was a real hot evening and as soon as them doors opened they’ve basically nearly all fallen out of it, sweat was dripping out of them, and it was just like the usual thing that people don’t listen to instructions. So, it was quite funny, and Malcolm didn’t find it funny and proceeded to tell them so as well, to my amusement.

How has the Old Royal Naval College changed throughout the years, what does it signify in 2024?

Duration: 01.20

 

When the Navy were here, it was a closed shop, if you like. I believe it was open to the public for one hour on a Thursday, and I can’t remember the time, but it could have been like from two till three or something. So, no one knew that you could ever come here.

When the Navy left, yes, it was a big change. But for me, other people can get to see it and enjoy it, which was great. A lot of people didn’t feel that way. But I did, because it’s so beautiful. You want the world to see it. And for all those years, it was pretty much a no-go area. You had military police, you had the Metropolitan Police, 24 hours a day, there was an alarm that went around the fencing. So, if anyone came over the fence, all the alarms went off.

But for me now, people can use the venue, they can enjoy the venue. For me, that’s brilliant. And what it should be about.

Can you recall your fondest memory at the Old Royal Naval College?

Duration: 01.27

 

So, for me it was probably Millennium Night. They wanted to do a dinner, and you had the concert over at the Queen’s House. So you had stars performing all evening and into the New Year.  

I think I started work that day at one or two o ‘clock in the afternoon. So, Malcolm said look I appreciate we’ve got staff working. I’d like to have a party in the Queen Mary so that your friends, family and children and then when you’re finished work you can go and meet them in there and party on. So, we thought that was a really great idea.  

In between making the decision to do that, Eurythmics, who were performing wanted somewhere for their after party after the concert. So, they used the old commander’s residence and they actually stayed there for the whole evening and left the next day. Simply Red also were looking for somewhere to have their after party in the King William, which was an event space back then.  

We agreed to stay on and we were allowed to stay in Admiral’s House because it was going to be a long night. I looked after Mick Hucknall in the King William and someone else looked after Annie Lennox in the commander’s residence and it was great. It wasn’t great at six o ‘clock in the morning when I couldn’t walk but once Mick Hucknall’s guests started to leave, he then sat at the piano that was in there and was singing and playing his piano which was almost like it was your own personal little performance. So, for me that evening will always be the most memorable.