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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Baked potato sparks ballet alert
Royal Opera House, London
The audience had to wait outside for 20 minutes
Thousands of ballet fans were evacuated from one of Britain's most prestigious venues on Thursday - because of an overcooked baked potato.

Around 2,000 people who had gone to watch the San Francisco Ballet at London's Royal Opera House were made to stand outside for 20 minutes when a fire alarm went off.


Nobody has owned up to it yet but fortunately it happened during the second interval

San Francisco Ballet spokesman
But fire-fighters traced the cause of the alert to a backstage microwave, where a baked potato had been forgotten by a dancer, and exploded.

"The microwave seemed fine but there wasn't much left of the potato," a spokesman for London Fire Brigade said.

The incident happened during the second interval of the company's show at the Covent Garden venue.

"There were wisps of smoke. It took fire-fighters a while to find the cause of the smoke," the spokesman said.

Royal Opera House, London
The Opera House was rebuilt with donations
"Eventually they found a small kitchenette backstage and in a microwave were the remains of an exploded potato."

A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Ballet, which is performing at the venue this week, said nobody has owned up to cooking the potato.

"Fortunately it happened during the second interval," she said.

"The audience waited for around 20 minutes outside, which was the length of the break. They only missed out on their drinks."

The Royal Opera House is bracing itself for more serious criticism from Dame Vivien Duffield, who is leaving after the venue decided to merge her fundraising trust with another body.

'Tireless efforts'

She is credited with donating up to 25m from her personal fortune, and raising a further 100m as chairman of the Royal Opera House Trust.

The venue has confirmed that the Trust will be merged with The Friends of Covent Garden to create The Royal Opera House Foundation.

Sir Colin Southgate, the venue's chairman, praised Dame Vivien's "tireless efforts and invaluable contribution", which he said are unlikely to ever be surpassed.

Her contribution was instrumental in the rebuilding of the venue in the 1990s.

See also:

06 Jun 01 | Arts
Opera ticket price freeze
02 Nov 00 | Entertainment
'Arrogant' opera chiefs lambasted
27 Apr 01 | Arts
Talks avert opera strike
02 Apr 01 | Arts
New opera boss takes charge
20 May 01 | Music
Royal Opera House turns to pop
23 May 01 | Arts
Screens plan for opera fans
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