Like many people here, the Europa Hotel holds special memories for me. I visited Belfast for the first time (as an adult) in 1995, to attend a conference in the city centre - including a fair amount of time spent in the Europa's first floor bar. The trip set in train a series of events that led finally to a permanent move from London to Belfast.
Like others, again, I can name all the other Hastings Hotels, have visited some of them (with variable results, I must say), and feel it’s important to support a local business in a highly competitive industry. Or rather, I did until today, when my Belfast Telegraph Facebook page presented me with some unwelcome news.
A documentary has been made about the history of the Europa. Two launch screenings were held yesterday, and someone had to think of a promotional gimmick. Because of course no-one would be interested in the fascinating history of the hotel in its own right.
I can understand the line of reasoning. The Europa is 40 years old. So let’s cast our minds back to, er, 1971. What was life like then? Well, people were murdering each other outside the hotel’s front door, but we won’t dwell on that. Homosexuality was illegal, but perhaps rather poor taste to mention it. The year’s pop charts were topped by, amongst others, Rod Stewart, T.Rex, and Slade. Not another seventies pop star lookalike event, please.
So what else has changed? Oh yes, the position of women. In 1971, something called women’s liberation was just getting going. Women were starting to protest against being treated as sex objects. Didn’t they burn their bras? Well, we can't have any of that sort of thing. Hang on a minute, wasn’t there a Penthouse nightclub in the Europa itself? Maybe we can run with this.... and it gets us some lovely girls....
As the Belfast Telegraph – no stranger itself to lovely girls – put it:
Scantily clad models donned the traditional ‘Playboy Bunny’ inspired outfits to welcome the hundreds of guests with a 1970s-themed evening.
But what’s this? Apparently:
The afternoon screening was introduced by Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster with the evening show launched by the city’s Lord Mayor, Niall O'Donnghaile.
That’s one of our best female politicians, a role model for younger women; and Belfast’s first citizen, member of a party that will no doubt have something to say about women’s rights at its Ard Fheis this weekend. Shame on you both, and shame on Hastings Hotels for failing to understand that there are some aspects of the 1970s that are better left in the past.