Van Morrison’s anger over canceled Belfast hotel gig will air on TV

The behind-the-scenes drama of Van Morrison’s infamous concert at Belfast’s Europa Hotel during the Covid pandemic will air on TV this week.

An’s gig was supposed to mark the easing of lockdown rules, but grabbed headlines after it was pulled at the 11th hour, including for a rant at the health minister which later went viral. The singer attempted to lead the audience by singing “Robin Swann is very dangerous” and called on DUP MP Ian Paisley to join him on stage.

The new BBC documentary series The Hotel People was filmed at a number of Hastings hotels including Grand Central, Culloden and Europa.

In the first episode, viewers will see general manager James McGinn having to deal with ‘very angry people’ as upset fans, including some who arrived from the US, had to be told Van didn’t was not allowed to sing.

He said: “Apparently in the last hour there is a little bit of worry. I think the show must go on. We wrote to people, we asked questions – I’m really ready to do this event, and it’s not like they don’t know.

Hotel manager Howard Hastings suggests a Plan B to James with a video of a previous gig with Van in the room and no dancing, but adds: “I think it needs to be [here]he will be as disappointed as everyone else.

“I don’t know what more we could have done to clear our lines before moving on, so to get a ‘no’ at this stage, I think, would feel like an arbitrary decision – it would be very, very disappointing.”

James added: “So it will be an intimate evening with Van Morrison but he won’t be singing – and the band won’t be playing.”

Guests instead received a free dinner with a ticket refund, but 400 plates of food would be wasted and the rest of the week cancelled.

It was another costly blow for the hotel chain which literally had the battle for Hastings due to the impact of the pandemic on the business.

Earlier in the first episode, James said at a management meeting: “We just reported a loss of £16m, so what are we going to do to boost that and get that business back?”

Speaking to Sunday Life James, from Killyclogher outside Omagh, said he believed the Hastings hotel chain was starting to thrive again after the challenge of a few difficult years.

He said: “Opening the first six months was really tough, it’s only now that we’re opening the year that we find our legs I guess. So God knows what it’s going to bring when it airs!

James, who has worked at Hastings for almost 27 years, admitted he has never experienced such an incredible impact on the industry he loves because they are ‘all about hospitality’.

He added: “That’s who we were, the experiences we create. But you had to spray them, you had to turn them over.

“We had to stay away from them, you know, and it was all just foreign to the way we operated – two-metre distances, you’re not allowed to get off your table, you’re not allowed to dancing – in the beginning when you think the restrictions were so harsh.

“People could get bad tempered with us because it was, ‘Show me your double vaccinations and your photo ID’, that’s what it was at one point, that’s what you had need. I mean, the frustrations were huge.

“You were tracking and stalking people coming into your business. It was horrible.

“I think we’ve generally lost up to a hundred full-time employees, either through voluntary or forced departures. So it was not pleasant.

“And then all of a sudden you start swallowing again and you start a little and a little and then of course Van Morrison was the perfect storm, right? We were ready to arrive two hours before the event and then it doesn’t happen.

“You know, I could write books, but I should sit down and think about it. I remember one time there was a gentleman complaining fiercely, demanding for the general manager.

“And of course I came out of my office down the spiral staircases of the Europa, all five foot four of me, and as I approached him he said, ‘Surely you’re not not the general manager! And I said, ‘Actually, I am!’ “

The Hotel People starts on BBC2 on Tuesday August 23 at 8pm and will also be on iPlayer

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