Following the death of The Queen, companies reached out to comms and PR professionals for help on how they should respond. Many Company members were involved in communications at various levels. Four Communicators share very different personal experiences from those extraordinary days.
As the first Communications Secretary to The Queen (1998-2000) Simon Lewis OBE, EMEA Vice Chair, Client Services, FTI Consulting, did ten live TV interviews.
Here are five communications learnings he took away from that extraordinary week.
1. The BBC and ITV excelled themselves, in particular the way both channels covered the funeral with no commentary but simply the extraordinary footage from the Abbey. It was absolutely the right decision.
2. Live television is pretty scary! As communicators, we are trained that preparation for media appearances is everything, but live television is the absolute opposite. Often the time pressure is such that the presenters have very little time to prepare anything other than an introduction and therefore, for a live television interview, you should expect the unexpected.
3. The TV presenters were enormously impressive and asked relevant and interesting questions of a range of different interviewees.
4. Most interviews I gave were to US television companies and CNN and NBC in particular [Simon’s CNN interview here.] There is no doubt that the level of interest in the Royal Family, the late Queen and the new King in the US is extraordinarily high. In particular, I gave interviews to The Situation Room and Wolf Blitzer and the NBC morning programmes, and it was clear from the investment alone in the production team and temporary studios how much the American broadcast companies were putting into the coverage.
5. The Queen was highly popular in Slovenia, so much so that they felt it necessary to send a TV crew to interview commentators. The Slovenian TV camera crew were particularly interested in hearing about the constitutional role of The Queen, and it was fascinating to hear also that on the day of The Queen’s funeral, the whole of Slovenia came to a halt.
Stephen Canning, Chart.PR & British Army CMM Integration Lead.
As reservist with the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), the oldest regiment in the British Army. As the late Queen was our Captain General, I was one of 24 HAC soldiers to be given the immense privilege to march in the funeral procession.
The day after the passing of our beloved monarchs we travelled down to Catterick Garrsion, where we would stay until the day of the funeral. As training began we encountered our first challenge – learning to march and conduct drill in the pace we had never practiced before and a number of drill movements many of us had never seen.
The hours of training were long, the work was hard and the effort required to ensure ceremonial kit was to the very highest standard was high. However everyone across the camp conducted themselves with dutiful pride and respectful positivity, knowing this was a chance to honour the late HM Queen and the first opportunity to serve HM King.
As the day of the procession arrived we were all driven to Wellington Barracks in the early evening where we nestled down for some rest and final preparation.
The respectful excitement as the moment came for us to step off was palatable in the air and something that I will remember forever. The parade itself felt like it flew by, despite being several hours in length, and every moment was filled with emotion as the importance of the event washed over those marching. There were moments where it was hard not to be overcome with emotion.
Having the immense privilege to march in the funeral process for HM Queen is something I will never forget and a memory I, and my family, will cherish forever.
Behind the cameras, Lt Col Vickie Sheriff, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Surrey, shares her experiences of The Queue.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II hit me hard. I’d not only recently lost my father but I was also very conscious that this was the end of an era.
As a serving Army Reservist who holds a Queen’s commission, the passing of the only monarch I had known and served throughout my life felt personal.
I was with many friends at the Company’s military dinner at the HAC on the eve of The Queen’s passing. Many of those friends are or have served in the Forces and I am grateful in retrospect to have spent that strange, sad, and poignant time together as we all tried to comprehend the news.
During the days of mourning that followed, many of my friends made the effort to see The Queen lying in state in Westminster Hall.
Work prevented me from going sooner and the news of queue waits of up to 30 hours did well to put me off on the first attempt. But Saturday came and I knew I had to do it. I had to make my personal pilgrimage to say goodbye. At 6pm, sitting in my garden, I made the decision. I caught the 19.27 from Pewsey in Wiltshire, and by 21.00 I was walking with many strangers to Southwark Park in the darkness to the start of The Queue.
I immediately bonded with others around me. Dave was a retired RAF officer who is now a cheese seller in Derbyshire, Emma and her teenage daughter Megan had just travelled down from Durham after viewing universities, and Helen had travelled on behalf of her family from Devon. We were ‘queue buddies’.
We were almost constantly on the move. Wrist band on, and with warm clothes and snacks in rucksacks, we trudged on. I was amazed how some families opened their homes to allow the queuers in to use their loo. Many had set up stalls selling hot drinks and cakes. The sight of London Bridge was a key moment for many. Lit up beautifully in purple lights.
We were treated all night with the stunning night views along the Thames and there was a party atmosphere in some places as revellers passed us by. St Paul’s lit up the skyline and we were grateful to see the London Eye and Big Ben appear in the morning gloom.
Weaving ever closer to the Houses of Parliament through the seemingly endless lines in Victoria Gardens, we felt a sense of achievement and the mood was upbeat. We’d all got this far and were so close.
A dear friend of mine who queued the night before gave me some good advice. After the rush of the security zone where you’re joking with the Police Officers operating the airport style security one minute, and the next thrust into the silence of Hall – take a moment to compose yourself. I followed her sage advice. I collected myself before entering St Stephen’s Gate and climbing the two flights of stairs to reach the landing above the vast expanse of Westminster Hall. Having seen it on TV (I’d watched the live stream for hours at home), I was suddenly there, being ushered and coaxed to move through quickly.
Despite being programmed for the preceding 12 hours to ‘keep moving’ I had to consciously stop to pause, bow, and say a final thank you. With so many people in there, it was remarkably hush. I couldn’t quite believe I was there, yards away from our wonderful Queen for one last time. I witnessed a changing of the guard which allowed me a few more precious minutes in the Hall.
With tears in my eyes I turned at the doors for one last view of the catafalque with the guards’ heads bowed, the Royal Standard draped over the coffin and Crown Jewels glittering on top. What a sight. It is seared into my memory.
I have served in the Armed Forces for over 25 years, paying my last respects didn’t feel like a choice. I was drawn there to say my own personal goodbye, an experience felt by so many, many other people. It was a privilege to be able to do so.
Photographer Andy Sillett documented some of the historic scenes in central London.
I worked out the most likely route King Charles would take when returning to Buckingham Palace from Balmoral, then staked out a view above the crowds lining the street by climbing a lamppost.
If you would like to share your experiences of this historic time, please contact us at Press@companyofcommunicators.org