Four years ago City high-flyer, Ajit Chambers, stopped his bicycle and stared into a small, dusty shop in an inconspicuous alley in central London. It was a strange but magical moment, which would change his life forever.
Following a fifteen year career in the banking world, jetting between London and Switzerland, handling gargantuan supplier deals and helping the CEOs and Chairmen of large City institutions to increase productivity and profitability, Ajit was somehow drawn to this Aladdin's cave.
What had caught his eye was an old map, suspended on cables from the back wall of the open fronted store. The map wasn't technically for sale but Ajit was curious nevertheless so jumped off his bike and wandered in. On closer inspection, there wasn't anything particularly interesting about the map and he was about to head back out onto the street when, for no specific reason, he urged himself to peer around the back. What he found was, in his mind, a veritable treasure map. It was, in fact, a haunting map depicting all twenty-six underground 'ghost stations' on the tube network. Some owned by the Ministry of Defence, some owned by TFL, these deep, forgotten spaces are relics of the past, frozen in time - a snapshot of the era in which the iron doors were cranked shut and the padlocked chains were locked together for, in some cases, over a hundred years.
Map of Underground in 1927 (left) Ajit Chambers (right)
Years later, Chambers discovered that the little shop in the alley was positioned immediately behind Transport for London's Headquarters and with the following inspirational allegory ringing in his ears -"Every man has his opportunity but it's only those who take that opportunity who are truly successful", he followed the yellow brick road.
After his very successful fifteen year career in banking Ajit Chambers was ready for a new adventure - this chance discovery had ignited his passion and stirred his imagination. There was no turning back and several tough years of campaigning later, Ajit Chambers is realizing his dream.
Chambers identified several abandoned Underground stations that could have feasibly been appropriate and secured an audience with Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in 2011. In this meeting, the pair together whittled the choice down to twelve possible sites and Chambers has recently forged financially viable deals on three of them.
Ajit and Bill Clinton (left) Ajit and Boris Johnson (right)
We're now almost three years of strategic planning down the (Piccadilly!) line and, with the cooperation and assistance of the MOD, Chambers is about to purchase the freehold of the first of the stations following a £25m bid backed by his investor, an anonymous 27 year old billionaire, who jumped at the opportunity after reading a feature on Chambers in The Times in April last year.
This is a serious project and Chambers knows it. He's assembled a crack team of world renowned professionals including the founder of the visitor-experience led Vinopolis, Duncan Vaughan-Arbuckle, Wing Commander Ian Shaw (ex- MOD/RAF) and John Ross, former CEO of Schneider Electric. Chambers’ Special Advisors include Clinton Leeks, Parliamentary advisor for the HS2 project and Janelle Raeburn, previously a TFL Strategic Planner. His team of big-hitters is currently putting together a commercial property deal for the management of the first coveted site with Jones Lang LaSalle.
Brompton Road Underground Station was opened at the turn of the last Century and was sold to the MOD shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, for £22,000. Adding to it's rich and enigmatic heritage, Brompton Road was used as the secret underground Command Centre for the anti-aircraft division of the RAF. Accessed by tube (via a secret, un-scheduled stop, of course) and frequented by Winston Churchill himself on more than one occasion, the occupants of this deep nerve-center of espionage-fuelled intelligence were responsible for protecting London from the German V1 and V2 flying bombs as well as wave after wave of enemy fighter raids. Chambers even has possession of the original title deed signed by the Secretary of State to confirm the purchase in 1940 and it is in this guise that the abandoned station now stirs from it’s lengthy slumber.
Fast forward to 2013, and we're now dusting off the cobwebs and opening the third chapter of the station’s distinguished history. Brompton Road is about to be brought back to life. No longer will this mysterious place be one of the twenty six old ghosts under the bustling streets of London. Brompton Road is about to become the most exciting, intriguing and ambitious restoration project in Europe. In fact, so encapsulating is this story that the keynote speaker at the German Tourism Conference in Dubai is using the Old London Underground Co. as a case study on the world stage later this year.
One interesting attribute that all tube stations share is an above-ground building which acts as the ticket hall and entrance. This is still the case for all the ghost stations too, but because they are integral to the station beneath and largely owned by TFL and the MOD, they are rarely put to use these days. Rather, they lie unassuming and unnoticed, often in the most conspicuous of places, yet they are surprisingly difficult to identify. Brompton Road, however, is to this day operated by the RAF (housing a Cadet Squadron) and is, as a result, preserved in excellent condition.
Ajit Chambers’ concept is very simple and is, as follows.
Brompton Road Underground Station will be London's Alcatraz. A fascinating, eerie, stark, nostalgic relic of the past, steeped in (sometimes macabre) history and capable of sparking the inner urban archaeologist in us all.
The ticket hall structure will be a mecca for events of all shapes and sizes, the rooftop will be an enchanting garden, bar and restaurant on the fashionable Brompton Road, whilst below ground will be a world class tourist attraction with groups of fifteen ushered down the drop-shafts round the clock for private tours of the mysterious, forgotten world below.
Minimal cosmetic restoration will be carried out so as not to compromise the authenticity and decaying charm of the former Command Centre from a bygone era. Visitors will even see the Piccadilly line trains racing through beyond the far platform, unbeknown to the millions of commuters who pass by in the darkness, every week.
Now, here's the science bit. Chambers has a vision of world-class ‘imagineering’; One that Walt Disney would have undoubtedly been proud of. Picture the scene. You're in a spooky underground chamber (excuse the pun!) and a phantom train glides into the platform. The doors slide open and a hoard of ghostly RAF servicemen spill out, hurrying to their stations. Here begins a sensational journey back in time, to an ethereal ghost station filled with the heroic spirits of a distant age. This hidden world will be created using the very latest projection and hologram technology, the likes of which haven't been seen in a city center visitor attraction environment before. A strategic mix of holograms and actors will combine to create a thriving underworld, accurately telling the stories of what happened in this deep warren of covert and secret tunnels. Corporate and consumer visitors will experience a fully operational Command Centre complete with a seventy year old underground railway, in full (holographic) use! Putting it bluntly, this will be a truly world class 'edutainment' focused visitor attraction to rival any other authentic experience anywhere in the world.
Indeed, when Chambers first ventured down there by torchlight (the first person who had done so for decades), he discovered a veritable Tutankhamen’s tomb of discarded treasures - huge industrial fans, gas masks, gas-sealed doors, even a cinema for the troops stationed there during the war…all of which you’ll soon be able to see for yourself.
Ajit's first trip down the rabbit hole...
But with such a spectacular experience, comes an equally spectacular price tag. Excellence doesn't come cheap and the sacrifice Chambers has made to date is significant (£260k of his own money on meetings and site visits alone). His purchase price will be around £25 million. His office is supported by Google and Acer and a recent seven-hour recce confirms that his capital expenditure of circa £2 million meets stringent health and safety regulations, with visitor installations being several million more. Chambers is ready, willing and, most importantly of all, able. He's got interest from high places too, with a string of celebrity supporters for his project from Rupert Everett to Russell Brand.
Of course, corporate events are central to Chambers' ambitious plans. With one of the most enticing and intriguing venue concepts ever attempted in London, corporations of all shapes and sizes will be clamoring for the opportunity to stage an event (or throw a party!) in such a unique and historic environment. In fact, a huge international conglomerate has already offered Chambers a sum in excess of £100,000 for the right to stage the first event at Brompton Road next year and MSN have promised to publish a tribute to the project on their homepage, worldwide, on launch day. Clearly, this sensational project, born by a momentary bout of curiosity about what was on the back of an old poster in a current-day Diagon Alley, has captured the imagination on a global scale.
Most importantly of all, though, is that this world-class venue will be accessible to all. Corporate groups of all shapes, sizes and, to a certain extent, budgets, will have the opportunity to host events here. With event spaces spanning the über-cool rooftop bar and restaurant (which will become a highlight on the Knightsbridge/South Kensington scene), the main event space housed in the historic and architecturally important 'above-ground' building and, of course, the main attraction where groups of fifteen at a time will venture down with their guide, to explore the secret underworld beneath, Brompton Road Underground Station will be the hottest ticket in town.
Essentially, Chambers is a living manifestation of David Cameron's desire to "Utilize private money to fund public assets, whilst simultaneously creating the opportunity for a sustainable revenue stream".
Perhaps the most exciting revelation for our industry is that the supplier relationships are all up for grabs and londonlaunch is proud to be advising Chambers and his team on everything from catering and entertainment to audio-visual and production. It's so refreshing to discover that such an incredibly exciting new project offers a genuine opportunity for local London businesses. Even more encouraging is that Chambers has a master-plan which will enable him to fund a roll-out of his ingenious concept across eleven more stations. He proposes to enable suppliers and partners to share in the profits by becoming stakeholders in the Old London Underground Company project - a sort of subterranean John Lewis, if you will. This would also enable suppliers with hands-on experience of such an unusual venue to embark upon each new venue opening with renewed efficiency and vigour.
April 2014 is the planned date for the historic launch of Brompton Road Underground Station and the world is watching. Londonlaunch.com will be the first place where details of booking the venue for corporate (or private, if you're feeling adventurous) events are revealed, so do check in regularly for updates on this story.
And as for that old map that started this incredible journey? Well, it's now hanging in Ajit's office of course...where else?
Will Broome, CEO
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