We were a little nervous when we headed to London’s Annie The Owl last night. The owl pop-up faced a savaging from animal activists when it was announced in February, despite plans to donate profits to an unnamed owl sanctuary.
But now Annie and her pals have finally arrived at a blacked-out venue in east London, ready to hang out with a few of the 125,000 people who signed up for the ticket ballot. And, you’ll be glad to know the event isn’t a wild booze-fuelled festival of owl; it’s sober, seated and seems pretty animal friendly.
The candle-lit space seats around 100 people and is very well ventilated. There’s ‘owl art’ on the bare-brick walls – including a Lego mosaic made by Brixilated – as well as a selection of educational books, and a projector playing videos of mainly owls (but also, weirdly, snakes and frogs). Noise is kept to a minimum; there’s a low-volume soundtrack of chill-out tunes, and visitors are asked to keep their voices down.
On arrival, you’re handed a list of house rules, which include: no flash photography, no touching the owls and no leaving your table. You’re shown to your allocated table and offered one of a selection of three smoothies (all really tasty) and a plate of cheesy, crackery light bites, which are less exciting.
Handlers bring out two of the six owls at a time. They start with a small educational talk about each breed, before giving visitors the chance to hold them.
The owls have been provided by Charles Animal Encounters who usually work at schools, scout groups, fetes and festivals, rather than by a sanctuary. Handler Charlie explained to Time Out that this means the birds are comfortable hanging out around groups of people. In fact, the only drama was one when one of them decided to perch on some of the wall art.
The owls are totally regal, cool and awesome. And, Charlie is how we imagine Santa be like IRL (a lovely white-haired man with a comforting voice and excellent owl knowledge).
The only negative is that – because of all the important care taken to look after the animals – there are sections of time where the event isn’t that exciting. There were long periods where you can’t actually see the owls, and the smoothies take a while to come because waiting staff can’t use the blender while the birds are in the room. At £20 per person, maybe it’s worth visiting an actual owl sanctuary instead? Your call.
Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that the owls at Annie the Owl had been provided by Amazing Animal Encounters. This is incorrect.
Find out more about London’s animal pop-ups