On 5 July 1969, the Rolling Stones played a now legendary free set in Hyde Park, just two days after the death of founding member Brian Jones. An estimated half a million people, including rock royalty Paul McCartney and Keith Moon, gathered in London’s Grade I-listed green space, where frontman Mick Jagger donned romance era attire to recite two stanzas from Shelley’s poem Adonaïs, written as a meditation on John Keats’s premature demise.
Once through with the reading, dedicated to Jones, the band released several hundred cabbage white butterflies into the crowd, whose close proximity to the – tiny by modern standards – stage would be much maligned by today’s safety practitioners.
Auspicious occasions such as this require a setting to match, and the Royal Parks have become famous for such grandiosity.
Dating back to the Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park in 1851, the Parade Ground has hosted many high profile and important national and international events such as Pavarotti in the Park, Live 8 and Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday celebrations.
Today, the Royal Parks’ events attract millions of people each year, opening them up to new audiences and admirers. Money raised from these events goes back into maintaining and keeping them as the national treasures that they are.
It’s no walk in the park, of course, balancing nature, neighbours, nobility and the numbers. Alun Mainwaring, however, cuts a calm persona as head of events and filming at the Royal Parks.
“The most important thing is we get the best event delivery partner. It’s not just the product itself, but everything else around that,” says Mainwaring.
The Royal Parks works in close partnership with each event organiser, particularly on the big concerts. “These do have disruption issues so there has to be buy in from park stakeholders early on,” adds Mainwaring.
Since 2012, the Royal Parks have been far more focused on on stakeholder engagement, promoting constructive support rather than opposition and outlining its modus operandi in its Major Events Programme.
“A lot of event organisers are used to the restrictions of outdoor venues in London parks, so the conversation is usually at an advanced stage by the time we get involved. We also have community and small events programmes for charities, hospices, and community groups working under the same umbrella,” he adds.
Mainwaring’s team is also on hand to advise on practical considerations surrounding your park-based event. “Route management is crucial for events, and our facilities department are experienced in handling this. We also recommend the most appropriate ‘hard standing areas’, which are routes and areas suitable for use without disruption and congestion. So we try and set guidelines to improve the event from the initial stages.”
Enquiries really took an upturn after the 2012 Olympic Games, during which the parks held events including the triathlon, 17 roller events, beach volley ball at Horseguards.
Once the Parks breathed sigh of relief from these, the team took stock of its Major Events Programme.
“We went from having a very reactive department, dealing with events and filming daily, to being proactive. Our strategy document was published in 2013, and then updated in 2015. It went out for consultation and has the buy in for stakeholders,” says Mainwaring.
The list of stakeholders varies from park to park. At St James Park for example, The Queen, Prince Charles, residents and the military are among those with vested interests. Hyde Park has a similar list, including The Friends of Hyde Park Group & Kensington Gardens.
“Hyde Park is ‘the people’s park’, so the consultation is thorough. Its events are more based around entertainment with the Parade Ground hosting up to nine concerts annually with a 60,000 capacity.”
Elsewhere, the park hosts PWR’s Winter Wonderland, Proms in the Park, the Royal Parks Half Marathon and mass participation sporting events.
“We set the capacities for each event, and we tender for opportunities. For concerts, we want to tender for a seven year contract, and we are way more prescriptive in our requirements. I wrote the specification for Winter Wonderland’s tender. For concerts in Hyde Park, we set a red line boundary, and require certain standards, like flushable loos, the best artists, qualitative and financial submissions.”
Long term contracts allow the Royal Parks to become a partner and allow organisers to invest heavily in year one setup. “AEG, for example, invested in the Great Oaks Stage in 2013, a structure that is in keeping with the surroundings and is truly world class.”
Elsewhere, St James Park, Regents Park and Richmond Park are used for more ceremonial purposes, and as such are subject to more branding restrictions.
“We try and restrict what we do at Horseguards Parade as it is a shared space with a changing of the guards occurring daily. It therefore has a national importance. However, there are various events that are suitable for the space.
“VE day, for example, and this year’s Centenary of RAF on 12 July. The latter will be a huge celebration and will feature one of the biggest fly pasts ever.”
Regents Park also comes with its own unique challenges, with residents situated very close by, necessitating strict restrictions on live music. Richmond Park, meanwhile, has deer and areas of scientific special interest.
“The events in the parks really have a significant impact on London ‘s economy, and people come from overseas. Around 3.4m people attend, and these people use the local transport, hotels, and eat out and that’s true for sports events and concerts too,” says Mainwaring.
The Parks generate around 70% of their own income, and 40% of that comes from events. The rest is made up from catering, licenses, and the rental of a series of park buildings. Meanwhile, as a charity, estates are often left to the Parks.
“But it’s not just the economy. People’s lives are improved buy these events,” adds Mainwairing, “That’s why we always have nice price point, and a family offering to give a public aspect to the events. We try to attract people to parks who might not come here. Winter Wonderland is a good example of this.
“However, it’s clear that the economic impact message is not getting out. More needs to be done to publicise how valuable events are.”
Given that the Parks are restricted in terms of numbers, the team has to do more to make the events it does run more profitable. ”I can’t turn around and say ‘by the way I’ll put in another concert’. We must work to the event strategy. This means we must think creatively to get more commercial income but not from having more actual events.”
One area the team looks at is introducing more high-end experiences. “We look at where we can improve on each event afterwards, in addition to the operational issues. In terms of the commerciality, there’s always creative ways of doing that. It’s about improving what we have on site, the scope of the tender.
“I think it’s taken a while but the mid week is a success story, incredible catering, free cinema, Major League Baseball, activations, attractions, and low level music are good fun, and not so intrusive. People are free to walk in, and enjoy the park, and summer in London with high quality attractions. Improved commerciality of the event is also important, and all the caterers and bars are working which drives revenue.
“We always look at what the other parks in London are up to. We work with Steve Edwards (see boxout) who’s been here for 40 years. He’s seen it all.”
One area that has gained an increase in budgeting allocation is crowd management. “All our events have security sub groups, including the Metropolitan Police. All parties are aware vehicle barriers, closed roads, and the various routes in and out of the park. Importantly though, we make sure the rest of the park is working as it should do.”
Whether you’re royalty, a Rolling Stones or a weekend wanderer, the Parks’ events strategy is designed around you.