Case Study: The Suns Military Awards

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ESC Events is one of the UK's premier event management companies, successfully serving private and corporate clients for more than a decade. For UK newspaper The Sun's star–studded Military Awards at the Imperial War Museum in December 2010, the agency had 39 hours to build, run and take down two VIP drinks receptions, a black tie dinner and an awards ceremony attended by HRH Prince Charles, the Prime Minister and David Beckham.

The Imperial War Museum is committed to being open to the public 364 days a year (it closes Christmas Day only). Because of the special nature of the Millies, however, it agreed to close its doors for the day, giving ESC a total of 39 hours before the museum reopened for business as usual the following morning. ESCs brief was to create and run an event that would not only be an exciting occasion to be a part of, but would also be a show that would come across well on camera for a television audience of 5m people and provide the all–important wow–factor. Finding an appropriate space for an increasingly popular occasion in a working museum was not going to be easy. In previous years, drinks receptions were hosted on a first floor balcony and in an empty gallery on the second floor. Both were occupied, however, which meant finding an alternative location. Given the lack of floor space inside the museum, ESC instead constructed a transparent pavilion over the iconic 15–inch guns situated in front of the building, with a red carpet that ran to it from the museums gates. The 54–foot–long, 100–tonne guns and the permanent artillery displays surrounding them are immovable, meaning the 20m x 30m pavilion had to be built around it. A raised floor and prior site visits meant that the gun obstacle was easily overcome and the guns made a fantastic centre feature within the reception area. The museums main atrium was also transformed to host a black–tie dinner for 330 guests as well as the stage for the awards. Exhibits in atrium include a rare Battle of Britain Spitfire and 'Old Bill', a London bus that transported troops on the Western Front during the First World War, which had to be carefully manoeuvred around during the event build. TV cameras and cranes had to be carefully positioned in order not to disturb the exhibits, while at the same time providing a clear view of the stage. John Wickens, chief executive of ESC Events, said: The IWM is the home of British military history, making it the perfect venue to celebrate the astonishing commitment and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces. Our biggest challenge, aside from ensuring we made the most of the space we had available, was to create an event that was bigger and better than last year – and all within a very short build and strike period. As well as ITVs filming requirements, the interests and agendas of several other stakeholders, including News International and BAE Systems, had to be considered and the expectations of each one met. Getting pre–event approval from all sides at times took longer than expected. For example, the Imperial War Museum owns only the museum building – the surrounding area, including the land on which the guns stand, is owned by Southwark Council. The build approval process therefore had to be certified by council officials as well as being given the thumbs up from the museum. Guests arriving at the museum gate were treated to a light show covering the museum and surrounding trees in reds, blues and greens before moving into the tent and drinks receptions, including a VIP drinks reception hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales Prince Charles and wife Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall. Prime Minister David Cameron and wife Samantha, footballers David Beckham and England captain Rio Ferdinand, TV personalities Holly Willoughby and Konnie Huq and X Factor winner Matt Cardle were among the high–profile visitors to welcome soldiers, sailors and airmen and woman who have shown incredible courage in the past year. With such a celebrated collection of guests, security had to be tight. Royal security requirements, which must be followed to the letter at the best of times, were under the spotlight after the student fees demonstrations in central London the previous week. All 600 on and off–site staff, as well as each guest, had to be security–cleared. With guests seated for dinner, the 11 awards were presented by UK celebrities Amanda Holden and Philip Schofield. Among the event highlights was a moving speech from HRH The Prince of Wales Prince Charles, who created the awards. He praised the stoic resolve and courage of parents who see their children go to fight abroad, and presented the 1st Battalion, Mercian Regiment with the Best Unit award.

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