London’s BT Tower opens door to the skies

Fancy a meal in the revolving restaurant at the top of the BT Tower during its brief opening this week, and next after closing in 1980?

That won’t be easy. BT Group received 59,448 applications in a ballot for the 1,400 bookings available during its two week opening.

The pop-up restaurant opened to the public on Saturday for two weeks until August 7 to celebrate the communication tower’s 50th anniversary. Any profit will go to charity.

Guests can enjoy a four-course lunch for £49.95 (Dh285.78) or a seven-course dinner for £67.95. A free beverage is offered to diners when they arrive at the 34th floor. They may need it to steady their nerves, the views are dizzying.

London has many tall buildings now, but they are clustered, mainly in the City and Canary Wharf financial districts. The BT Tower, which opened in October 1965, offers a 360-degree sweeping panorama.

At 189-metres tall, it’s the height of 25 double-decker buses parked end to end.

The restaurant is in the widest part of the BT Tower, with a total diameter of almost 20 metres. The outer part of the floor revolves and completes a full circle every 22 minutes.

Thousands of visitors queued to visit the viewing platforms at what was originally called the Post Office Tower. Those closed after a bomb that had been hidden in a washroom was detonated at 4:30am on October 31, 1971. No one was injured. While the platforms remained closed, the restaurant did reopen. It finally shut down when the lease ran out nine years later.

The tower was first conceived in 1936, but the project was delayed by the Second World War. It was finally completed on July 15, 1964, and officially opened by then prime minister Harold Wilson on October 8 the following year.

I was a schoolboy at the time, and my father took me to visit the tower shortly after. It was one of the great memories of my childhood.

Fifty years on, I got the chance to go up the tower to have a look before the restaurant opens. The views were as impressive as I’d remembered them. There was one special treat this time: I was allowed to turn the key that makes the restaurant revolve.


What exactly is BT Tower?

It forms part of the British Telecom network and, when it was first built, its primary purpose was to support the aerials then used to carry telecommunications traffic from the capital to the rest of the UK. The aim was to ensure rapid expansion of the telephone network without the expense of tunnelling under the city to lay cables. Today it continues to relay signals between broadcasters and international satellite services.

So will BT open a permanent restaurant in the tower?

That’s been rumoured for years, but BT says it has no current plans.

Any chance of visiting the restaurant?

BT plans to hold an additional ballot later this year to offer more than 2,500 people the opportunity to visit the 34th floor. Good luck if you want to be part of it.

Why is the communications tower so significant?

If you weren’t alive when it was built, it would be hard to appreciate it. The structure looked like something straight out of science fiction and was even featured in the popular BBC entertainment series Doctor Who.

How does it compare to other London buildings height wise?

The Gherkin is 180 metres tall; the NatWest Tower, 183m; Canary Wharf, 235m; and the Shard, 309.6m. Elsewhere: The Eiffel Tower is 320m; the Empire State Building, 443m and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is 829.8m.


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