I recently watched the Paxman documentary about Winston Churchill’s funeral and I was drawn to the fact that this was event planning on a grand scale which started 7 years before it happened. In 1958, Lady Churchill and the various other members of the project team had their first planning meeting and the project was entitled ‘Project Hope Not’.
Winston Churchill remains one of very few commoners to be given a state funeral. When he died in 1965, hundreds of thousands of people came to pay their respects at his lying-in-state at Westminster Hall. Yet more came out onto the streets to line the route to St Paul’s for his funeral. The procession could be seen as one of the greatest mass engagement events of the 20th century. The Project Hope Not team were not just planning a funeral, but the equivalent of the largest UK festival. The whole population wanted to be a part of this remembrance, celebration and gratitude to a man who had become the symbol of hope and determination through the most turbulent and traumatic of times.
As I was watching the documentary, I was struck by the challenge of the guest list. Highly politically sensitive, limited capacity, high demand….not a task I would want! It must have seemed an impossible task and one that I think Winston Churchill would have hated if he had had to do it himself. I wonder if the Project Hope Not team were aware of their event management practice in planning all this – the logistics, media liaison, security, scheduling, stakeholder liaison, volunteer co-ordination, budgeting and everything else that comes into the event manager’s job description.
I was at the Churchill rooms at Bletchley Park last year and I met the man who had collected all of the various pieces in the collections there. He worked with Churchill towards the end of the Second World War and he spoke eloquently about the humanity of this man who recognised that he had made mistakes but would not let that draw him from his focus on winning the war and leading Britain, simply doing his very best.
I think we as event managers owe Churchill, and all those who serve in our armed forces, and the related support services, a debt of gratitude for enabling the freedoms we have today. Without him, without the collective work and sacrifice of all during 1939-1945 (and beyond), we would not have the pleasure of working in this amazing industry, doing what we love.
Thank you Winnie!
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” Winston Churchill
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky