King Charles III and Queen Camilla, centre, wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace with other members of the Royal Family after their coronation. Photo credit: Leon Neal / AP
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King Charles III and Queen Camilla, centre, wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace with other members of the Royal Family after their coronation. Photo credit: Leon Neal / AP

On the margins of the International Butlers Day

I am at the airport, on my way to Casablanca. Another „first”. I am very excited and looking forward to this Protocol International training together with Mark Verheul and having a glimpse of this famous city. While I was waiting for the first leg of my flight to depart, I received a message from a LinkedIn friend that 28 May is the International Butlers Day.

I believe we have a lot in common, chiefs or officers of protocol, and butlers, as we both serve a higher purpose, to make circumstances, and the leader ready for their next move and we need to make sure, everything is arranged for that in a way that the Leader, with a capital „L” will be able to conduct his or her next program in a dignified manner impeccably.

Many around us mistakenly believe that protocol is only about seating plans, and making a fuss around high-level dignitaries. No. Not at all. We are in most cases the organizers, heads of task forces, providing guidance on the planning, organization and management of high-level, complex events and itineraries. Working behind the scenes, we have to make sure that the circumstances are conducive to dialogue, statesmen’s or international organizations’ core business.

If I look back at last month’s top event, the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, I can but guess the tremendous amount of working hours, meticulous planning, rehearsals put into this event of our lifetime. I watched the broadcast fully on BBC and I was wondering what a huge coordination effort it was to manage so many strands of work to make that day such a great success. Wonderful uniforms, beautiful gowns, all those military marching, horses trained - and of course the ceremony was beyond words. Everything looked seamless, although I am sure it was far away from that for those behind the scenes or in the center of attention. Nevertheless, I can but praise the day.

When I had to decide what to write this month’s blog on, the Coronation seemed an obvious choice, as an unprecedented protocol event and flow of ceremonies, this world has not seen in more than 70 years. But when I actually had to sit down and write, I realized, it was difficult  to write about it as I was amazed every moment when I was watching it online. What would be great is to learn exactly how the day was organized, how the whole event came together in one hand, who led the whole effort, how was it managed, how big was the core team for the organization or how the different strands of work were further delegated, and the processes supervised. I would certainly appreciate such a workshop for myself.

Now that I reflect on the International Butlers Day, I wonder what it was like for those who dressed His Majesty King Charles III, or the Princess of Wales, just to single them out. All those blues and reds, ribbons and decorations on her dress, her beautiful tiara, the King’s hermelin, the crown, magnificent. Every detail was critical, everything had to be in the right place. All those butlers and others in their services have a tremendous knowledge. Yet, we tend to forget about them. In the better case, they fade into their surroundings, or they are absorbed by them as if they don’t exist. As I recall, many times I was told by high-level officials years back that protocol people should be hidden, they should be dressed in black or grey because the show is not about them.

Indeed, the show has never been about us, we are not those in the center, but we are making sure every minute that dignitaries can be in the center of attention. Just think of it: when there is a high-level event, we are telling our dignitaries, what to do and how, we are leading them into the room, we may be the ones announcing them, we look attentively when the event is taking place to jump in if required to help out and save the day. So it is not at all like as a high-level official once said: „the chief of protocol will come to greet you, then you meet officials in the receiving line, no worries who they are, you will be told to anyhow, and then you will be taken to the hotel”.

In fact it is long negotiations with my chief of protocol counterpart in the Host Nation whether indeed he/she greets on board the aircraft, and with the Leader they walk down together walking two steps below, or she comes down by herself allowing the Leader to walk down by himself/herself due to the presence of the photographers, so that they can get a few clean shots or whether the Chief of Protocol is greeting the Leader at the bottom of the staircase. Then the Leader is introduced to all those waiting in the receiving line, then it is negotiation beforehand too if there is red carpet or no, a military band or just two lines of soldiers, and then the number of cars in the motorcade is another important negotiation, and how the luggage will be taken to the hotel, by a separate luggage car or the motorcade will need to wait because the luggage must be retrieved. Potentially a very long negotiation mostly based on the threat assessment, as well as on reciprocity, is how many close protection officers will be there and where they sit, just to mention a few questions which are negotiated and decided to have a seemless scenario for the dignitary, to walk down from the aircraft, have some handshakes and then get in his car.

In Casablanca, Mark Verheul and I met a group of highly interested professionals who were keen to discuss previous situations, lessons learned, who asked a lot of questions to make sure their stakeholder events approximately in a month time will be a great success. I enjoyed these two days very much and my message to them is as follows: believe in yourself that you will do a great job, and that your Organization can claim her rightful place, also through critical negotiations. It is not just the Host Nation who should say how they want the event, but you should also have a clear concept, a vision on how your event should enfold. Brainstorm, role play to see what can work and what cannot, and write your full and detailed scenarios allocating also tasks and responsibilities in that same document. And then check, check and check.

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