Ten years running the Lincoln Castle Revealed restoration project is nothing compared to the logistics around a Royal visit and 2,400 guests.
Our vision for Lincoln Castle Revealed was always to explain to the public how the project was going. Share everything, good and bad news. So it seemed only right and proper to invite our newsletter database to share the big day. The right thing to do, but what a lot of people to get in place by 10.30am on a Monday morning.
Marquees and caterers organised, stage set up, films to show, scripts and speeches written, tickets dispatched, Royal recces and endless walk throughs, everywhere clean and tidy, arguments, tears, recurring nightmares and obsessive viewing of the Met forecasts – all ticked off. We were nearly on our knees by the time 8 June dawned sunny.
Lincoln Castle always looks lovely in early morning sunshine. Marquees in place, bunting everywhere and the repaired stonework glowing it looked particularly special. At 8.30am the public started trooping in and very quickly the grounds filled up. Everybody had colour coded tickets and Jess insisted that I had to make an announcement as people were ignoring their instructions. I picked up a microphone and turned to face over a thousand people and suggested that those with purple tickets needed to move onto the South Lawn. Over a thousand people stared back, a collective speech bubble over their heads "We're happy here and we're not moving". I turned to the team "Don't worry, it'll be fine" – always important, I feel, to recognise a fight that you're not going to win!
Twenty minutes to go
Twenty minutes to go. Team Castle lined up – architects, archaeologists, engineers, interpretation specialists, researchers, script writers, film makers, project managers, sound artists, graphic designers, stonemasons, joiners, lead workers, roofers, decorators and landscapers – literally hundreds of people that made the restoration happen. We all processed in together, to the applause of the assembled crowds. The Royal helicopter flew over on cue.
The gates of Lincoln Castle swung open, trumpets sounded, everyone stood up and a car drove in and two women we didn't recognise got out. We all looked puzzled. Oops, we'd got a bit ahead of ourselves, this was the Lady-in-Waiting and the Lord Lieutenant's wife! We re-gathered our poise, the gates swung open again, trumpeters better second time round and the Princess Royal drove in – always good to have a rehearsal I thought!
[quote]"[We] really wanted to be there to celebrate this historic moment in Lincoln Castle's 947-year history."[/quote]
A Royal arrival
Local actor Colin McFarlane (Batman, Dr Who) was our Master of Ceremonies for the day and as everyone assembled on the stage, he coordinated the whole crowd in a "Welcome to Lincolnshire Your Royal Highness" – the Princess Royal was smiled and mouthed a thank you. Two good speeches from the Leader of the County Council, Martin Hill, and Carole Souter, Chief Executive of HLF. Martin mentioned the £20 that was spent on repairing the castle in 1199 and how they'd splashed out a further £20 in 1224 and regretted that £20 didn't go so far today!
Plaque unveiled, band playing, we set off to show the Royal Party around the castle. Timings were critical and my job to hover behind Cllr Hill, chivvying if we got behind and being there with the facts and figures if required.
First official stop for the Princess Royal was meeting architects, archaeologists and stonemasons on the East Curtain Wall.
Unveiling another plaque
We now head to the David PJ Ross Magna Carta Vault. The Dean of Lincoln, blesses the vault and this is transmitted onto the big screen. It's a moving moment: Lincoln Cathedral is the owners of Lincoln's Magna Carta and they have been our supportive partners throughout this 10-year journey. David Ross, who made a most generous £1.4m donation towards the vault, makes a speech and the Princess Royal unveils another plaque.
We then head to the Victorian prison to meet more people who worked on Lincoln Castle Revealed. Again at every stop the Princess Royal spends ages with each group, but somehow we are back on schedule. She is particularly fascinated by the Saxon sarcophagus, the display of which only completed two days previously. The stone lid of the coffin sits on thickened glass and appears to float above the base – looks terrific.
Meeting the children
By some sort of miracle we seem to have arrived at departure point exactly on time and two small children are waiting, one to present a posy, the other a bagful of a Lincolnshire produce. Turns out to be the Princess Royal's toughest assignment of the day as the children freeze into silence, but she eventually manages to draw them out.
The Royal Party head to the cathedral, we close the gates and at last we can have lunch. Some of us had a 5am start and are starving. Our guests get the chance to look round the site and we have performances from Jonathan Foyle, Colin McFarlane and Poets Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. The weather has turned grey and cold but such relief that all has gone so well.
Having so many Lincolnshire people there created the wonderful atmosphere and to me it just felt that everyone there, including the Princess Royal, really wanted to be there to celebrate this historic moment in Lincoln Castle's 947-year history.