Behind the scenes. An insider’s view of the event
“Where’s Merc?” asked an anxious voice at 5.15 on the evening of 27th April 2007. “In the shower” I replied. “Well he’d better get down here quickly; they’ve just told us all to get out of the Pump Rooms and come back at 6 o’clock.”
Locked out of The Roman Baths
Bob Wilson is notoriously unflappable – as the Greenpeace man responsible for masterminding their presence at such difficult venues as Glastonbury, he has to be. But even he was rattled; for not only was his boss, John Sauven, locked out with him, so too were the leaders of both Friends of the Earth and The Climate Group. But it gets worse; even the crew responsible for setting up all of the audio visual equipment needed for the evening’s entertainment were milling around looking anxious. Apart from the Footdown team, the only person not standing in the sunshine in the Abbey Courtyard was Midge Ure.
We always knew it would be a challenge getting everything ready before our guests started arriving at 7.00pm. But the opportunity to host an event on climate change in the unrivalled setting of the Roman Baths and Pump Room was too good to pass up. Unfortunately we failed to consider the possibility that not everyone on the staff would be aware of our demanding timetable.
Table plan panic
By 6 o’clock we were back inside with everyone frantically trying to fit their piece of the jigsaw into the overall puzzle. Bob, with backpack in place and avoiding eye contact with anyone likely to interrupt his mission, moved with purpose around the building. Like an officer organising his troops just before the big push, he took command and never allowed his fear of what was in store to affect his behaviour. With the help of my 13 year old daughter, Katie, and Tom, our main contact from the Roman Baths, I began sticking on the floor the carbon footprints that had seemed such a good idea when we first planned the event 6 months earlier. Katie soon realised that my heart wasn’t in it and offered to work with Tom to complete the task. That left me free to gather a team around to finish off the table plan. To anyone reading this who has ever organised an event with 160 plus guests, it may seem the height of incompetence to have left the seating plan to the last minute. And they’d be right.
I quickly realised that we needed someone with a cool head to take charge of the plan – my rising level of hysteria ruled me out – and fortunately happened to spot Anne Summers, who had recently joined the Footdown team as the leader of the new Bristol Fifteen group. With her many years experience of front line police work I thought she’d be just the person to wrestle this particular problem to the ground and so it proved to be.
Suddenly it seemed we were back in control. By 7.15, names started to appear on tables, my daughters were busy producing the master list of who was to go where and getting cross with their mum for repeatedly moving Stephen Hale of the Green Alliance and messing up their list. Meanwhile the guests were happily sipping sparkling wine and soaking up the unique atmosphere of the Roman Baths on a sunny evening.
Then word came through that there was insufficient power down by the Baths where Midge was due to play and the first of the films was to be shown. What we thought was an ample source of power turned out to be a merely a temporary source, laid on by the Baths for some workmen, and wholly inadequate for what we expected to do. Let’s just call it a failure of communication. While not delivering a fatal blow, if it had meant moving the whole evening’s entertainment to the Pump Rooms, it would certainly have damaged the occasion.
All’s well that ends well
From our bunker in the Pump Rooms we waited for news. At what point would we have to change our plans; who would make the decision to move to the Pump Rooms; how would our guests react? Then, just as we all began to lose hope, Bob and his team of miracle workers connected the last extension cable to the last available plug socket and we were in business again.
And what an evening was in store. Against the stunning backdrop of the Roman Baths, and in the glow of the fading light, Midge sang a spectacular set of songs which had passers-by peering over the Roman Bath’s walls to investigate. Richard Lyddon anchored the evening with all the finesse for which he is well known amongst the region’s ITV news watchers and Tony Juniper, John Sauven and Steve Howard demonstrated why their respective organisations are so successful. The food was good, if a little slow in coming and the wine was indifferent to bad, depending on who you asked. All this we could perhaps have predicted.
What none of us could have anticipated was the incredible energy reverberating throughout the Pump Rooms that built as the evening progressed. At times the sense of shared purpose seemed almost palpable and while, in hindsight, we could clearly have done more to capitalise on this energy, nevertheless we now know of many initiatives that the evening helped to kick off.
We said when we first committed to the joint event that it would be a once off. But it seems we got enough right for many people to want us to repeat the concept and so it seems that from a shaky birth the Entrepreneurs with Conscience baby is now ready to walk.
Click here to order a copy of the video of the event.