What event planners can learn from Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral
Two minutes of silence. Military bands and bugles. Floral tributes. And a moving service at Westminster Abbey. Yesterday, we lived history and witnessed the biggest event of all time.
Over half the world population – an unprecedented 4.1billion people, according to the Daily Mail – tuned in to watch the live broadcast of the interment of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving sovereign who sat on the throne for a record 70 years. Loved and admired by many across the world, she died at 96.
Death so unexpected
Yesterday’s funeral brought to a close a ten-day hive of activities that followed her death on September 8th. While she lived long, her death was somewhat sudden. Well, all deaths are. But for such an older person, hers was devoid of an extended sickbed stay. Two days earlier, she had appointed the newly elected Conservative Party Leader, Liz Truss, as the British Prime Minister. Although the appointment of Prime Ministers had always happened in London at Buckingham Palace, the Queen opted to receive the incoming Prime Minister in her retreat at Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, primarily due to health concerns that, albeit, did not raise any fears of death at the time.
The sudden turn of events two days later, when she died just a few hours after the Palace reported her doctors’ concerns for her health, set the global event industry (especially that of the United Kingdom) in a frenzy. Operation London Bridge – the codename for minute-by-minute activities to take place immediately after the Queen’s demise – was activated.
A hybrid event
The Queen’s burial was the typical hybrid event, with thousands, including about five hundred heads of government, at the venue. At the same time, it was broadcast into hundreds of millions of homes globally. Event planners helping the Royal Family and the British government with the Queen’s burial executed a template that had been in place for decades. Happening at a time when restrictions over the Covid pandemic are fully relaxed, turnout was expectedly high.
The suddenness compelled instant adjustments in all earlier scheduled events in the United Kingdom and some of the British realms. While there was no outright mandate for event cancellation in the ten days between the Queen’s death and her funeral, an entire nation was in mourning. Barring military events and royal venues that were outrightly asked to close, it was left to event organizers to decide whether to cancel or not.
Government buildings, including government-owned venues, were closed. And it was clear that any events planned with government departments or offices would not hold.
Diplomatic nightmare for event planners
Government officials and event planners for the Queen’s funeral were thrown into some diplomatic nightmare. There were at least 500 world leaders, some of whom had strained relationships with their neighbors. Part of the challenge became how to sit these leaders without their neighbors raising eyebrows, yet the planners pulled it off to the admiration of the world.
Excellent military event planners
The Queen’s funeral procession, led by the military, ran smoothly like an efficient machine. From lifting the coffin off the royal hearse to dropping it in Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, the pallbearers marched in admirable precision, suggesting a comfort at the task that only comes from countless moments of practice. The event planners within the British military and the military from the realms that came to help demonstrated amazing organization.
What event planners can learn from the Queen’s funeral
The Queen’s funeral plans were long laid out since the 1960s and revised so many times until its full execution in the last ten days. The program even included how to announce the Queen’s death itself. It was that detailed. Event planners can draw a lesson from this. No amount of time is too long to plan an event. When you know an event will hold, you should start immediately to devise plans for its execution. Those plans can constantly be revised from time to time until the final draft leading to the event is developed. It’s easier to update an existing plan than to start creating an entirely new one when the event is already up close.
From today, Brits will gradually return to everyday life as they look forward to a new era, the one flung open by the Queen’s death. The United Kingdom enters this era with a new King, a new currency, and a new anthem. It is an age without the monarch much of Britain has known all their lives.