'I organised an event for the Queen – she put everyone at ease'

How to put together an annual event and lunch fit for the queen: A planner's perspective.

Jeni Harvey (far right) greeted the Queen at Sheffield Town Hall in 2015.
Jeni Harvey (far right) greeted the Queen at Sheffield Town Hall in 2015.

What was it like to organise an event for the Queen? Here Jeni Harvey, who helped deliver the annual Maundy money ceremony for Sheffield City Council in 2015, shares her memories of meeting Her Majesty...

It’s a custom that dates back some 800 years, to the reign of King Edward I.

So when my team at Sheffield City Council received the call that the Queen would be coming to the city for the annual Maundy money ceremony, those of us involved in planning, delivering and communicating the event were under no illusion as to what a tremendous honour – and tremendous responsibility – it would be.

Taking place the day before Good Friday, the Royal Maundy is the commemoration by the Monarch of the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus.

During the Queen’s reign, she chose a different cathedral – and therefore a different city – to visit for the occasion each year. And in 2015, I was lucky enough to be involved when it was Sheffield’s turn.

The arrangements were simple enough in theory; the Queen would go to Sheffield Cathedral for the Maundy ceremony, then travel the short distance up Fargate – one of Sheffield’s main shopping thoroughfares – to the Town Hall where she and the Duke of Edinburgh would have lunch.

After that, she would be whizzed off to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, seat of the Devonshires, for a private visit.

At Sheffield City Council, we were used to putting on large scale events – the city hosts the annual World Snooker Championships, for starters, and at the time of the Maundy ceremony had recently also put on the Tour de France’s Grand Depart – but this was a whole new level, with a whole new set of expectations, protocols, and pressures.

Organisations across the city joined up to make sure roles and responsibilities were clearly defined. And one thing that fell firmly within the remit of the Council was lunch – a lunch fit for the Queen.

A few weeks in advance, town hall caterers – more used to putting on weddings – had to send a suggested menu to Buckingham Palace, with a choice of options for starters, main course and dessert. Word came back that the Queen would be having the pie, followed by Queen of Puddings.

Well, who wouldn’t choose the pudding with your own job title in it?

The Duke of Edinburgh, meanwhile, had his own requests – locally-sourced real ale. So a team was sent to scout out Sheffield’s best breweries and choose him a selection. I believe we had a fair few volunteers for that particular role.

At the Town Hall, new bathroom facilities were painted, staff were moved out of their offices for a full security sweep, and a scrutinising eye was cast over the Mayor’s parlour to ensure all was as spotless as it could be.

On the day itself, nerves were jangling. After the service at Sheffield Cathedral, the Queen’s car slowly drove up Fargate (freshly cleaned, bollards removed, lined with cheering crowds) before Her Majesty and her husband were received by our chief executive and his wife, and a small group of staff – myself included – on the Town Hall steps.

Both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were smiling, polite, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. They shook hands with staff as they swept in and up to the Mayor’s Parlour; the whole transition appearing natural and friendly yet with super-slick and flawlessly-planned precision beneath it.

I was struck by how small the Queen was – I’d somehow thought she would be taller – and how perfectly put together her outfit, bag and shoes were. Everything about her was immaculate. My borrowed floral Laura Ashley shift dress (whipped from my mother-in-law’s wardrobe after a last minute panic that I didn’t own anything suitable) felt decidedly dowdy by comparison.

She was dignified, stately, and projected a warmth that put everyone around her at ease; despite the pressure of the occasion. And before we knew it, it was done. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were out and on their way to Chatsworth, as smoothly and as swiftly as they had arrived.

We exhaled.

And afterwards we reflected upon how lucky we were to have hosted such an important Royal and religious event – the importance of which seems all the greater now Her Majesty is no longer with us.

Source: M&IT Magazine

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