More than a year since musicians had graced the stage of London’s O2 Arena, the venue came booming to life with flashing lights and thunderous beats for the Brit Awards 2021.
A sea of key workers rose from their seats, cheering with delight as they witnessed the long-awaited return of live music.
From the first notes of Coldplay’s new single Higher Power, beamed onto a huge screen from a pre-recorded performance on a pontoon on the River Thames, the atmosphere inside the venue was electric.
Against a backdrop of funky multicoloured lights Dua Lipa’s appearance in-person onstage then dazzled the crowd as glitter erupted into the air.
Almost as impressive was the clean-up operation which saw a team of people spring into action to quickly hoover the pink carpet off-camera.
Fifteen months earlier some 12,000 revellers packed in for the Brits 2020, one of the last big live events, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and the UK was plunged into lockdown.
Back then Lizzo had walked freely among the crowd, holding fans’ hands while offering out the microphone for singalongs, and rocker Sir Rod Stewart sang almost cheek-to-cheek with Rolling Stones star Ronnie Wood.
This year’s noticeably pared-down ceremony saw big-hitters like Sir Elton John and Coldplay instead appear on screen, and nominees seated at downsized tables-for-two in the middle of the arena’s sprawling floor.
The crowd may have been at a third of the normal Brits capacity, but their screams, cheers and enthusiastic dancing throughout went a long way to making up for the smaller numbers.
Safety measures were immediately visible on entering the arena, with hand sanitiser on display and reminders to wear masks in communal areas.
The 4,000 attendees, made up mainly of key workers from the Greater London area who were given tickets as a thanks for their contribution to society in the past year, had to present a negative lateral flow test result to gain entry.
Gone were the paper tickets fans might wish to keep as a memento of their evening out, replaced by a bar code scanned on a phone for contactless entry.
Operators at the O2 said the level of filtration for all fresh air coming into the arena has been “enhanced”, with a smart temperature-controlled ventilation system in place in a bid to ensure fresh controlled air throughout events.
Everyone attending on Tuesday night has also been asked to take a PCR test in the coming days, to help inform scientific research on how big events in indoor settings can return in the future.
One key worker heading in to the arena welcomed the lack of social distancing at the pilot event, saying: “I feel like we need to be connected again after so long.”
Leaving the O2, two pharmacists described the evening as “uplifting”.
Rushing for the Tube with the departing crowd, one added: “It was just nice to come together with other key workers and talk to each other, for once not about Covid.”