September 14, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Mementos of past royal visits to New South Wales | Credit: Joyce DiMascio

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 and the ascent to the throne of King Charles are major moments in history. Whether you are a royalist or not, these are significant occasions in the chronology of world leadership.

For the majority of Australians, this will be the first time they witness the ceremonies, rituals and traditions associated with the passing of a reigning monarch and the investiture of a new king.

A masterclass in event management

In recent decades, most would have witnessed royal events like the weddings of Charles and Diana, William and Kate and Harry and Meghan and, more recently, coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee. But the passing of one monarch and the rise of another is another level of history-making to which we are all witnesses – through extraordinary events.

For the events industry, the series of events underway for the UK’s mourning period represents a masterclass in event management.

The Queen’s death came as a surprise, given that only two days earlier she had performed her official duties in welcoming the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Extraordinary really and a final act of commitment to her duties to the very end.

Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest of any British monarch and the longest recorded of any female head of state in history.

I feel compelled to acknowledge her passing and the fine example she set as a leader over so many years. Her steady hand was inspirational.

Reflections on royal visits to Australia in the ’80s

In the ’80s, I had the opportunity to be presented to the Queen and Prince Philip at Government House during one of their visits to Sydney.

As a media advisor to the NSW Premier, I worked on three royal visits as the visit media liaison officer for the NSW Government. I was part of all the lead-up planning and travelled in the motorcades or ahead of them to exercise my responsibilities managing the media. It was exciting and very stressful.

There was generally a year of planning for the events and extensive collaboration between the palace officials, the Queen’s representative in Australia and of course those responsible for delivering the events in NSW – protocol officials, the police, security, transport providers, the venues and the communities and organisations to be visited.

We learnt so much in these years. It’s where I cut my teeth in event management and where I learnt the importance of planning for all scenarios – I remember vividly the director of protocol always asking, “Yes that’s good but what’s the wet weather plan?”

The protocols around the meticulously planned ceremonies are all documented step-by-step, minute-by-minute. Nothing is left to chance.

The evolution of the royals in the media

While major royal occasions are still steeped in history and tradition, so much else has changed in the way we receive news about them.

When the news broke of the Queen’s death, most people would have received the news on their phones – via Facebook, Twitter or a news feed. Such channels were unimaginable and nowhere on the radar in the period I worked on the visits in 1981, 1982 and 1986.

In those years, the scramble was around which tabloid would get the front-page picture for the next edition. Or which of the glossy magazines would get the best cover shot for the up-coming royal edition. And for television, there was the complicated planning for the location of the OB Van – the outside broadcast unit. It was also a time when pictures were shot on film, audio recorded on tape and notes taken in shorthand. “Runners” would take the “film” back to the office for processing. There was no digital technology at all.

Event managers behind it all

Behind all the events coming up over the coming days are people in event management.

Highly skilled, highly experienced individuals and teams who will not only create the events but in real time share them with the rest of the world.

Among them will be those working in the protocol offices within government and teams brought in to deliver the carefully choreographed, historically significant occasions.

I’m immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to work on many visits by heads of state and royalty to NSW – among them the monarch whose reign is being mourned so deeply around the world.

As taking photos was strictly out of the question, my pocket-style printed working programs and the portrait simply signed “Elizabeth R and Philip” are cherished mementos – now all the more special since their passing.