The Entertainment Industry Pays Tribute to England's Monarch

It's not every day that a monarch reaches his or her golden jubilee. In England, the last lucky celebrant was Queen Victoria — and that was in 1887. This past June, however, Elizabeth II celebrated the 50th anniversary of her ascension to the throne of England. They have been five decades of unparalleled change — the Queen has outlasted Winston Churchill, the Suez crisis, the Profumo scandal, the Beatles, Noel Coward, Margaret Thatcher, the Cold War, punk rock, Princess Diana, and any number of scandals, controversies, and deaths, including many of those closest to her. Through it all, she has remained herself, an impassive symbol of state.

The months leading up to the celebrations suggested that they held little interest for the public. There was open speculation that the royal family has lost its luster. Newspaper polls revealed that the anniversary meant nothing to the man and woman in the street. The deaths, in succession, of Princess Margaret and the beloved Queen Mother added to a growing sense of twilight for the House of Windsor. Suppose they gave a Jubilee and nobody came?

They needn't have worried. The Queen's Jubilee, on June 3 and 4, was celebrated in fine style, with a spectacular series of events that drew in the entire nation, not to mention a television audience of 200 million viewers. The list of events blended high state services, including a processional, church services, and an appearance by the Queen on the balcony of the Palace, with parades, concerts, theatre, illuminations, and the Party at the Palace concert, featuring a lineup of stars that included Atomic Kitten, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Phil Collins, the Corrs, Ray Davies, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Tom Jones, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Annie Lennox, Ricky Martin, Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart, Brian Wilson, and yes, Queen, paying tribute to Her Majesty.

LD Duram Marenghi and production company Unusual Services (Alan Jacobi, executive producer) teamed up on the celebrations in central London, including the processions featuring over 20,000 performers. Their masterpiece was the son et lumière, in which lighting, projections, sound, music, water, and pyro were combined to stunning effect. The 15-minute event featured projections by E\T\C UK that transformed Buckingham Palace into a canvas for a series of startlingly effective images.

Under any conditions, the logistics of such an event would be daunting. Post-9/11, they must have been nightmarish. But Jacobi and his team went to work, dealing with everything from toilets to setting up a no-fly zone over central London. The build began May 2, with Unusual Rigging subcontracting and coordinating the efforts of 250 companies, as well as a crew of 500. Unusual also hired 40 stage managers for parades, set up a site accreditation system, installed an international broadcast village for news teams from 50 countries, and provided enough computer and communications equipment to accommodate the attending media. Marenghi designed the lighting for Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Monument (QVM), the Mall, and Admiralty Arch. Other design aspects included sound by John Del Nero, and video direction by Martin Jangaard (22 screens were supplied by Screenco).

There were other, odder logistical problems as well. Darren Hodge, Fourth Phase's crew chief on the job, was waylaid by tourists who wanted their photos taken in front of the Palace or directions to Harrod's. Furthermore, his work schedule had to allow time for extensive security checks, plus three hours daily for the changing of the guard at the Palace.

Marenghi, who has lit many large-scale events, and his longtime associate Nick Jones, created an overall architectural lighting concept for the Palace, the Mall, the QVM, and Admiralty Arch; the LD's challenge, was, he says, “Making it theatrical, practical, and affordable — in that order.” (He adopted a color scheme based on gold, blue, and white.) In order to realize his complex plans, the design was split into three lighting areas, with a different lighting rental company assigned to each. Vari-Lite Europe handled everything having to do with the Palace roof and forecourt. Fourth Phase London handled the North and South stages in Green Park, the QVM, and crowds in front of the Palace. Stage Electrics provided equipment for the Mall, Admiralty Arch, and assorted satellite stages in St. James' Park.

Because the Palace was the centerpiece of the activities, Marenghi had 50 searchlights installed on its roof. The units — Sky Arts, Skytrackers, and Space Cannons — were controlled by operator John Harris, using a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® in the Palace courtyard. The Palace itself was washed with 60 Vari*Lite® VL2416s and 60 VL5Arcs. The LD used 60 more VL2416 units, with 30 each on the front truss rails of the North and South Stages, but flipped to provide fill lighting. Six 5kW Syncrolite STX units were placed on the roof of the nearby broadcast area, to provide backlight for the QVM and also for the front Palace wash. (In addition, Fourth Phase London supplied 16 Syncrolite 3kW units, plus strobes and bars of waterproof PAR-64s and ACLs to backlight the fountain and pick out details on the QVM.) Two Strong Gladiator followspots were positioned to pick out the Queen making her way from the Palace to a dais on the Mall. The Mall itself was lined with festoons, with each flagpole illuminated by three PAR cans. Admiralty Arch was lit with 48 PARs, and the Queens Walk section of the Mall (nearest to the Palace) had 48 Martin Professional MAC 600s in Flightdomes, in ground-supported trussing that blended in with the trees. The North and South Stages featured various forms of live entertainment; the list of gear included the aforementioned 30 VL2416 units plus 16 Strand Codas for each stage.

The son et lumière began with a rocket fired by the Queen, which ignited the national beacon on the Queen Victoria Monument — the Queen lit the fuse, the rocket streamed down the wire along the bottom end of the Mall, exploding the beacon and setting off the barrage of effects. In some ways, however, the most stunning aspect of the show was the series of projections that covered the front of the Palace; this is the first time that the building has served this purpose. Ross Ashton, of E\T\C UK, the specialist in large-format projections, was commissioned to create a storyboard and artwork for the 15-minute projection show. Ashton, who has done similar with the Tower of London and a Belfast shipyard, put together a series of images that recalled the last five decades — from flower-power symbols to pink Cadillacs, outer space views, rotating records, and photos of children's faces to suggest the future of Britain. Because the music track for the event was completed only seven weeks before the show, Ashton had to work on a very fast track, assembling imagery, getting approval from the Golden Jubilee Committee, and compiling the artwork into scrolls.

There were, of course, numerous technical challenges. The Palace wanted the projectors to be as concealed as possible, so the units were placed in off-center positions and at ground level, not an ideal situation for large-format imagery; this required extensive keystone-correction. Paul Highfield, also of E\T\C, designed projector cradles, built by ESS, to ensure that the units pointed upwards at the right angle when they were lifted into position. The 10 Pigi 7kW projectors, which were run as five pairs, were thus placed inside the Palace forecourt, butted to the railings, and lined up with the building's pillars. They used 18cm lenses, rotating double scrollers on the front, each projecting an image 32m (105') wide. Control was provided by Pigi 6 software run off a PC.

There were many other aspects to the event. ESS supplied the stages in Green Park and elsewhere. Six Wholehogs were used to provide control throughout the area. Power Logistics supplied 95 generators for a total of 15 megawatts of power and 20 miles of cabling, just for the Palace and Green Park areas. The lighting and screens on the Mall required five miles of cabling, slung on wires between the trees and rigged by Unusual Rigging. In addition, Power Logistics powered the broadcast village and backstage facilities.

The fireworks that climaxed the event used over four tons of explosives spread over the Palace roof and Green Park, with additional stuff on the QVM (Wilf Scott and Keith Webb of Pyrovision were the designers). Custom effects included bursts of red, white, and blue centers and gold surrounds, and red, white, and blue shells that formed into a pie chart. Five different customized controllers were placed, each at a different control position.

With the Palace transformed into a giant projection canvas, with pyro shooting straight up into the sky, illuminating London for miles around, with the entire area bathed in saturated colors, and with all the associated sound and video effects, the people of Britain demonstrated conclusively to the world that their affection for their monarch is deep and enduring.

An Eye for Color

The British Airways London Eye, the 135m-high (445') Ferris wheel that dominates the South Bank of the River Thames, was bathed in golden light for the Queen's Jubilee. LD Paul Cook, of Park Avenue Productions, specified a rig of 80 Vari*Lite® VL5Arcs at the base of the Eye. Cook says he chose the VL5 because “there is no other lighting instrument readily available that has the punch and throw to reach the top of the Eye. The combination of the [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog control system, pre-focusing work in Vari-Lite Europe's WYSIWYG suite, and the VL5Arcs enabled a stunning sequence of looks to be created with only limited on-site time. The shimmering golden effect was created with a complex sequence of fast color changes, and this look was visible for many miles around the Eye.”

He adds, “The 10-day run of this event [May 31 through June 9] meant that we had to take tidal changes into account. The pontoon lighting position, which was used for all 80 lights, floats in the river and moves vertically 7m [23'] between high and low tide. To allow the lights to track these changes, multiple focuses were triggered by the Wholehog's real-time clock to gradually adjust the focus as the tides came in and out.”

Cook has lit the Eye before, for its official launch on the eve of the Millennium, in revolving colors for Christmas 2000, and in pink for Millennium Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The golden Jubilee design was created to highlight a charity fundraising initiative; the look was designed to be in harmony with the many Jubilee beacons that were lit around the country.

All the Queen's Horses

One of the first Jubilee events was All the Queen's Horses, sponsored by Fuller's Brewery, to pay tribute to the Queen's love of the animals. The event was held May 16-18 in Home Park, with a floodlit Windsor Castle as a backdrop; it was also televised on the BBC June 2. A cast of over 2,000 was involved, including a choir, orchestra, dancers, and actors, not to mention 1,000 horses.

Vari-Lite Europe provided the lighting package, which included 12 VL2202s, 20 VL6Cs, 66 VL2416s, and 20 VL5Arcs. Conventional equipment included ETC Source Fours, Strand Minuette profiles and fresnels, more than 800 PAR-64s, 80 outdoor floods, 10 Avolites dimmer racks, four Strong 3kW xenon Gladiator and two Colour Arc 2kW xenon followspots, and four Sky-Art xenon searchlights, with control by two Vari*Lite Virtuoso DX consoles. LD John Pope teamed up with production manager Adam Wildi, programmer/operator Mike “Oz” Owen, and crew chief Tony Simpson.

The event, with voiceover narration from Judi Dench, told the story of the Queen's 50-year reign through her love of horses. Scenes depicted polo; carriage driving; a Scottish scene set at Balmoral Castle with pipes, drums, and highland dances; dressage; and a dream sequence featuring circus horses. Riders included personnel from all 16 British mounted constabularies, the Household Cavalry, the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, plus show jumpers, equestrian celebrities, and racehorses with their jockeys. Other riders came from Canada, Australia, North Africa, Pakistan, the United States, Argentina, and France. The show ended with a recreation of the 1953 coronation procession, in which the gold State Coach made its first public appearance since 1977.

Contact the author at