A year ago today, I stood on a dias in the market square to officially proclaim the accession of a new King to the people of Evesham. Of all the things I’ve ever done as part of my civic duties, this is, I think, the one that will always be the strongest memory.
It all started, of course, a few days earlier, when the Queen was reported to be in bad health and her family were heading to Bamoral to be by her side. Nobody in the media was so crass as to say so, but in the background we already knew it was a case of when, not if. A set of black table clothes, condolence books and official photos had been delivered to the town council office in preparation.
What made it more complicated, from our perspective, was that the town clerk was away on holiday – and on a cruise, so she couldn’t just cancel it and come home! So I had little choice but to take the lead myself in making the necessary arrangements, with the sterling assistance of Julie, our newest member of staff.
When the official announcement actually came I was just about to sit down with the family to eat our usual “Pasta Thursday” evening meal. I grabbed my plate, took it with me into the study where I switched the council website into “Operation Royal Bridge” mode and made a series of announcements on social media, then hot-footed it to the town flagpole to lower the flag to half mast.
The following morning, Julie and I finalised the arrangements for the books of condolence, and then started to plan for the Accession proclamation. We decided we’d make it as formal an occasion as possible, with the councillors in their ceremonial robes and Avonbank brass band to play the national anthem. At the last minute, I decided that we ought to have a microphone and speakers so that if the square was full, those at the back would be able to hear. Fortunately, Nick Kilby was willing and able to step in at very short notice.
When I arrived at the town hall on Sunday afternoon, I was, to be honest, mildly annoyed that everything had already been set up with the dias in front of the scaffolding on Nat West Bank. It didn’t strike me as being the best setting for something so momentous. I’d planned to put the dias under the tree instead. But changing it would have meant changing everything else around, so I decided to go with it. We did take two of the union flags from the town hall (a leftover from the jubilee) and tied them to the scaffolding to try to give it a slightly more formal appearance.
I’d had two documents emailed to me from the office of the High Sheriff of Worcestershire: the proclamation itself and the framework of a brief preamble that merely needed to be localised for Evesham in place of generics. I’d also written a short speech to go after the proclamation.
Earlier that day, I’d watched my colleage Alex Sinton, chairman of Wychavon District Council, struggle a bit with reading the proclamation from an A3 sized scroll, which was difficult to keep open in the right place. Given that I had to print the proclamation myself, I’d decided that I wouldn’t try to make it look like a scroll, I’d just use a sheet of A4 paper. But I wanted to add a bit of theatre to the occasion, and in particular I wanted it to be clear, visually, when I was reading the proclamation and when I was reading my own words. So on the Saturday, I’d popped into The Works and bought a purple ring binder and some loose leaf holders. One holder contained the proclamation, which was clipped into the binder. The other contained the preamble and my speech, back to back, but remained loose.
When I stepped onto the podium, I carried the binder containing the proclamation with the other leaf held against the front. That way, I could read the preamble with the binder closed beneath it, then, in order to read the proclamation I opened the binder. And at the end of the proclamation, I closed the binder and turned over the loose leaf to have my speech uppermost. Normally, I’m quite comfortable winging it when speaking in public, but in this case I rehearsed reading it all through several times at home first. Given the somewhat archaic language of the proclamation, I wanted to be sure I didn’t trip over any of the words.
In retrospect, having the podium in front of the bank was the right choice, despite the scaffolding. The square was absolutely packed by the time we started; if I’d been under the tree then half of the people would have been behind me. It’s not the biggest audience I’ve had for a speech – that would be at the Battle of Evesham Festival – but I’m certain it was the loudest and most sustained round of applause at the end. Not that that was particularly for me. Everyone there was well aware that they, too, were participating in history in the making, and the applause was for the Accession, not the proclaimer.
I hope everyone went away from the square with their own indelible memories of the day. I’m just incredibly proud to have had the immense privilege of playing a key role in it. And incredibly grateful to everyone involved who worked so hard to pull it all off.
Here are the three documents from that day: