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exploration party

Hundreds of young people descended on Freemasons’ Hall when it hosted the launch party of a kids’ TV show set in an English boarding school. Anneke Hak reports

It’s a balmy spring day and for anyone enjoying the sunshine near Great Queen Street, a sense of intrigue must surely have caught them. For, snaking around the corner of the Freemasons’ Hall front entrance, is a queue of young children and their parents, hundreds long. Some have been there for hours, others have made their way to Covent Garden from as far afield as Chester, and they are all here for one thing: the launch of Season Two of a teen-mystery series called House Of Anubis that will air on the Nickelodeon television channel.

In the grand building, through the Tower entrance on the corner of Wild Street, stands a man dressed in long black robes, with thick eyeliner framing his eyes and completing his Egyptian god get-up. Photos are taken and the children are given orders to pass up the stairs and try to unlock the secrets to the temple. Some children quake with fear as loud, doom-laden music blasts through the stone building, others take it in their stride, keen to get going on their quest.

‘This kind of looks like a church, it’s so cool!’ one child exclaims. He’s right. Freemasons’ Hall couldn’t have been a better location for the party – its high ceilings, temple-like atmosphere and brilliant ambience fit perfectly with the show’s theme about children at an English boarding school who discover hidden mysteries and House Of Anubis’s secrets.

Running up the stairs, the children head eagerly towards the first section of the temple, where they receive the riddle sheets they must complete to gain the sacred access. Two figures dressed in black robes explain the rules. ‘We’re actually Egyptian cult followers of the fearful brother Eden,’ the gentleman tells me, staying in character and refusing to divulge his real name. ‘We are in charge of making sure that only the very wise can enter the inner sanctum of the Temple of Anubis’, he explains, adding ‘We’ve set them a series of difficult challenges, and I don’t think all of them will make it through. Those who don’t will, of course, be sacrificed. Or else they’ll probably just have to leave.’ After this gruesome revelation the cult follower did come out of character long enough to confide, ‘I didn’t even realise non-Freemasons were allowed in. I mean, there’s a gift shop. It’s not what you imagine Freemasonry to be, is it?’

It really isn’t. A lot of work has gone into the event, which includes popcorn stalls, magicians, themed characters from the show and, of course, a dress rehearsal. ‘It’s funny,’ laughs the robed one, ‘because when we were rehearsing, we were told to take our cloaks off as there was a guided tour coming through and they were worried that the tour group would believe all the silly conspiracy theories that Freemasonry was some sort of cult, which this event being held here today disproves.’

science and riddles

As the children march around looking for the next answer, riddle sheets in hand, it becomes clear that not all of the answers are obvious and some are even hidden. On entering one room, I come face to face with a herd of children huddled around what looks like a science experiment as they try and guess how long it will take a piece of metal spinning on glass to stop – will it be shorter or longer than the time it takes to stop on wood? I leave, not confident about my GCSE physics, and bump into another Egyptian Cult Follower in the Hall.

‘I used to fly but now I’m stuck on the ground, black as night in the caretaker’s office I can be found! What am I?’ he crows. Yet again completely stumped, I move on swiftly. That’s the delightful thing about these riddles: you need to be a big House Of Anubis Season One fan to understand them, and therefore gain entrance to the main temple, where House Of Anubis Season Two’s first episode will be screened at 4pm.

A crowd gathers outside the hall, and I ask a few of the children about the fun they’ve been having while we wait. ‘We’ve had a great time,’ says Millie, aged seven. ‘The best bit has been meeting Jamie and Hannah from the show, who were walking around too. We got to speak with them!’

‘I like the mystery of today. I’m kind of good at solving the riddles,’ says Kerry, who is nine. ‘We’ve got all the clues today. Meeting all the famous people has been great – we’ve had our picture taken with Heather from EastEnders.’

well-known faces

Of course, this wouldn’t be a launch event without some well-known faces, and soap actors can be seen flitting around with family and friends. I stop to have a chat with Patsy Palmer, who plays EastEnders’ Bianca. ‘I know nothing about House Of Anubis, you’ll have to ask my children,’ she laughs as they run up to tell her about what they’ve seen. ‘This place is pretty impressive though.’

Finally the clock strikes four and the doors open. We all lurch forward, keen to get a look inside the Grand Temple. I find a seat behind eight-year-old Ryan. ‘I’m really brave, so the building hasn’t been that spooky,’ he tells me. ‘But I thought it would be a bit smaller than this – this is probably the biggest room I’ve ever been in!’

It’s also the first time a screening has been held inside the Grand Temple. Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall Karen Haigh tells me that the venue is well prepared for the influx of hundreds of young people into the building. ‘Nothing’s going to go wrong,’ she smiles. ‘We’ve checked and double-checked everything – and it’s great to be able to hold new kinds of events. Especially ones like this, which the kids enjoy so much.’

The characters from the show are introduced to screams of applause as they gather on stage to answer questions from a compere, and the audience buzzes with anticipation of what is to come. It’s time for the lights to go down and a hush instantly falls over the 1,400 crowd of young children, teenagers and parents. The premiere of Season Two of House Of Anubis begins and another event at Freemasons’ Hall can be claimed a roaring success.