The King’s coronation parade, which is set to be “double the size” of the late Queen’s funeral, started life as sketches on pieces of paper and ideas on whiteboards, the organisers have said.
Brigade Major of the Household Division, Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw, said he and Garrison Sergeant Major Vern Stokes watched the 1953 coronation on YouTube as they tried to come up with suggestions for the procession.
Preparations for May 6’s event began in November – with roughly one month of planning going into every hour the military will be on parade.
Sgt Maj Stokes, 51, said everybody in the proceedings “will be aware” of any potential disruptions or security threats – adding: “Everybody knows exactly how they are legally allowed to react of any of those.”
On Friday, the plans began to become reality as a procession rehearsal involving more than 700 guardsmen, officers and band members took place on Queen’s Avenue between Lille Barracks and Mons Barracks in Aldershot, Hampshire.
As the parade is due to see soldiers filling the Mall, Sgt Maj Stokes said they had to design a new drill movement in order to feed people into Buckingham Palace, which he is yet to name.
“It’s going really well,” Lt Col Shaw said after two run-throughs.
“There’s been a lot of PowerPoint slides, but this was the first chance to see what it actually looks like.
“I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be more excited and just want to fast forward to May 6 and get on with it.”
Many of the units who took part in the rehearsal have recently returned from operations and training exercises around the world – including Kenya, Iraq and Cyprus.
Lt Col Shaw, 43, who is due to lead the procession on horseback approximately 1,500 metres in front of the gold state coach, also led the planning for the late Queen’s funeral and her Platinum Jubilee.
Commenting on how the coronation will compare to the previous two state events, he said: “I think the big difference with the coronation, and what we’re doing, is the size.
“I don’t like to compare anything with the funeral because one person or a million people wouldn’t have made a difference to how special it was.
“But it is double the size of Her late Majesty’s funeral and it’s about triple the size of the Jubilee pageant. So it’s big and that’s the big difference.
“The size brings challenges, but the military – we’re pretty good at working through the challenges, so I don’t think that that’s been a problem.
“There’s an element of filling people in on roads – and you saw today it was a bit of a squash getting people down – but it’s not double the problem.”
Sgt Maj Stokes added: “We’ve been able to learn lessons from what we did (on the funeral) and insert more time if we need to or insert more rehearsals – and therefore we’ve been able to put those lessons into how we’re going to deliver this.”
Lt Col Shaw, whose grandfather marched on the coronation in 1953, said the royal household were responsible for eventually signing off on the proposals, but unlike the last year’s funeral, there were no written plans to follow.
Speaking about the planning process, he said: “It was great fun – in the first few months, or first few weeks, the two of us were sat with a whiteboard with a few others and we were sketching ideas, taking bits from historical parades putting it together and coming up with, hopefully, what will be an amazing event.
“We didn’t have a set plan to follow. For operation London Bridge there was a written plan.
“We didn’t have a written plan but we have historical precedent we can draw from from previous parades.
“And actually, a lot of the 53 coronation is on YouTube.
“So you can look at bits – taking bits from there, bits we wanted to add and putting the whole thing together.
“The procession you saw today, I was sat at home on a Saturday afternoon and I was thinking about it… and I sketched it all out on a piece of paper, brought it in… I said ‘what do you think?’ and he said ‘brilliant’ and that’s what you saw today.
“So I felt hugely proud watching it.”
Sgt Maj Stokes said he had the “unwelcome distraction” of training for the London Marathon in amongst the coronation parade planning.
“When you’re plodding the streets for two or three hours, that gives you a better headspace, and then you’re able to think about what you might have missed or how you can improve things – and that’s helped me an awful lot actually in designing and developing the plan,” he said.
Plans drawn up by Lt Col Shaw and Sgt Maj Stokes took inspiration from the 1953 coronation – after seeing the Mall full on the YouTube footage, they decided to increase the Foot Guards procession seen at the Jubilee celebration from six-wide to 15-wide.
Lt Col Shaw said: “When I get to Buckingham Palace, the Mall is going be full left to right, front to back, and the back of the procession will still be at Downing Street.
“That’s what we wanted, to fill that Mall so the image off the top just looks down and it’s packed with troops in the colour.
“It produces a wonderful spectacle that I think the country likes to see and we want to show – but it’s that spectacle of colour, and I suppose grandeur as well.”
Lt Col Shaw said they were prepared for poor weather, but admitted rain would be “disappointing”.
“Rain would be annoying. Heat not a problem,” he said.
“We have a lot of measures in place to deal with heat… and in the 20-30 years since Diana’s funeral we have all sorts of science and elements so heat doesn’t worry me.
“Rain would just be disappointing. The British public are all used to rain – it’s more just everybody gets damp and wet.
“That’s it, no-one likes rain. We want a lovely sunny day.”