The Pageantmaster for The People’s Parade

(Who else can say that they make 1/3 million people smile, every year?)

Michael Harrison
Past Master and “Person-in-Charge” 2023 LMS tri-Company Entry

The Lord Mayor’s Show is, and always has been, for the benefit of the people – it came about when King John, in 1215, was “persuaded” to allow The City of London to choose its own Mayor rather than one foisted on it by the King.

But these Processions (or Pageants) are a nightmare to plan and organise – and when our noble Editor asked me (as the “Person-in-Charge” of our joint Entry in this year’s Show) if I would please interview the Pageantmaster, my reactions were fairly reasonable.

(a) The Pageantmaster would definitely not have any time to spare; (b) neither would I!

So when I approached Dominic I was more than surprised when he readily agreed – and we should be forever grateful to him, because the more I talked with him, the more the enormity of his annual task became clear.

He carries – in his head – all of the plans for the World’s Longest Procession! Clearly they are also very carefully recorded – but it is his vision which creates the entire event and ensures that every minute of the more than one hour duration of the Parade is unique, thus capturing the attention of the more than 1/3 million people thronging the streets of our City, as well as many millions watching the live TV coverage.

Dominic has held the position of Pageantmaster since the death of his father in 1992 – so 31 years! His father had held the post for 20 years. The next longest lasted just 14 years (in the 17th century).

But Dominic admits to having a short attention span – so when I asked him how he had still managed to continue such a task for 31 years  his answer was illuminating.

“Every Show is different and every Show is interesting in different ways. Because it is so large, and every Entry is unique, it requires constant review and re-evaluation throughout the entire planning process – and total concentration in the build-up as well as on the day itself”.

The obvious follow-up question was about timing – and his answer emphasises the complexity of his role.

“I start planning some 18 months in advance (so always have not just one, but two, Shows in my head). Every Lord Mayor is different, and I start working with whom I expect to be the successful candidate 18 months out, and start to create a theme or themes for their Show.

This is a process which has been honed over the years – and thus enables the creation of the best mix of Entries, in the optimum order, to match the theme(s)”.

So how does he go about creating that “best mix” which we all take for granted on the day?

“We have 132 Serials this year. In total some 7,000 people with plenty of the very best marching bands to slot in between Entries or groups of Entries – some (like the Marketors) have a band as part of their Entry so they are, of course, paired. The huge variety of Entries leads to complex decisions on their final order, but it is a challenge that I enjoy”.

So what are your main responsibilities and challenges?

“My responsibilities go much further than the actual Procession – they include the liaison with Police, the BBC, other Security aspects. Everything to do with delivering a very special and enjoyable experience for everyone in the Entries and everyone watching, both there and on TV.

The most obvious challenge is security – and the threats vary from Show to Show. We have to consider Terrorist groups as well as attempts to disrupt from climate activists and a number of other protest groups.

The simple rule which we give to all Entries is “leave it to the Police, never get involved”.

Oddly enough another major challenge is caused by roadworks – such as around Mansion House and Temple Bar – over which we have no choice!

Of course, over the years, the level of additional Governance Regulations has greatly added to the overall burden.”

So how about “unusual and unexpected” challenges?

“We try to avoid them – but I will never forget the rear wheel locking on Roger Gifford’s coach which required his very rapid move to another vehicle, but that vehicle was already there for such an eventuality”.

How, and why, does it run so smoothly under most circumstances?

“We have circa 140 Marshals looking after the Entries – some have over 30 years’ experience, many have over 20. They are ready and prepared for most eventualities, and are greatly respected by all who have interacted with them. One group of children got so close to their Marshal one year, that the next year they went up and hugged him!”

But long before the day – you, as Person-in-Charge of your combined and complex tri-Company Entry will well know – we communicate extremely carefully with all Entries. Closer to the day we issue Security Passes for every vehicle (the Police have the complete list) and by then we will have ensured that each Entry has completed every aspect of their detailed responses – otherwise they simply are not able to take part.”

My final question was about what he did to relax between Shows – the response is amazing!

“Other than having two Lord Mayor’s Shows in my head, I am also the CEO of the Invictus Games – so relaxation is not very high on my agenda! However, both responsibilities have the aim of improving the lives of others, both involve the military, both give me great satisfaction.”

A Challenge to the Members of the Marketors Livery – they need Marketing assistance!

One interesting comment from Dominic is that there are around 2,000 people in this year’s Show in the 16 – 24 age group. However, that is the age group least represented in the audience. So perhaps we might put together an “Outreach” team to help them reach that group?

My personal conclusion: Dominic Reid OBE deserves very much more recognition (and public reward) – his devotion to achieving the best possible outcome for the World’s Longest and Oldest Procession over so many years (and he clearly has no intention of stopping) is incredible. But then add the responsibility for the Invictus Games and my admiration knows no bounds!

The 1215 London Charter effectively was the cause of the Lord Mayor’s Show!

“Know ye that we have granted … to our barons of our city of London, that they may choose to themselves every year a mayor, who to us may be faithful, discreet and fit for government of the city, so as, when he shall be chosen, to be presented unto us, or our Justice if we shall not be present… and he shall swear to be faithful to us...”

At the end there you can see a careful condition: every year the newly elected Mayor must leave the safety of the City, travel upriver to Westminster and swear loyalty to the King.

This “grant” was made under duress, and it did King John no good at all (Magna Carta followed later that year***) – but it did give The City of London a reason for holding a Procession for which we held

Some Interesting Facts about the Lord Mayor’s Show

The 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayor’s Show was in 2015.

There have only been two occasions since 1215 when it has been cancelled. The first for the state funeral of the Duke of Wellington; the second due to Covid.

Some 7,000 people, 200 horses and 150 floats take part in a three mile-long procession.

Alderman Prof Michael Mainelli is the 695th Lord Mayor of London.

The State Coach is over 250 years old.

The wicker giants in the parade are Gog and Magog, the traditional guardians of the City of London. They have been carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show since the reign of Henry V.

The Lord Mayor’s Show has been broadcast on the BBC since 1937, making it the longest running television broadcast worldwide.