Partying at the Palace

In an unprecedented move, it was decided to stage two concerts for the Jubilee within the grounds of Buckingham Palace, one classical, the other rock and pop. “The original idea was for a series of outdoor concerts staged at the grounds of all the royal residences around the country,” explains event producer Robbie Williams, “the funding for the shows to come from selling the world TV rights.” In the end, BBC TV asked for and was granted an exclusive (of the concerts at least), underwriting the whole venture and allocating a percentage of profits from video sales to the Queen's favourite charities.

With Williams having overseen the opening ceremony of the Millennium Dome, it was no surprise to find other key members of that production team present, Mark Fisher providing concept and setting and Patrick Woodroffe on the lighting fader. “Well, actually, it was quite different for me,” Woodroffe counters. “My role was more to support two very distinctive designers, Bernie Davis and Mark Kenyon.”

Once the BBC was in the driver's seat, a decision was taken to charge two experienced television lighting designers with the task of overseeing lights for the two respective concerts. “Bernie and I had already worked together on the Dome,” Woodroffe continues. “Surprisingly, Mark and I had not” — a curiosity, as Kenyon is the better-known specialist in one of Woodroffe's primary fields of expertise, concert lighting for TV. “The great thing was that these two men have very distinctively different styles, which fitted perfectly with mine and Mark's [Fisher's] main concern, which was to ensure that the two events looked very different.”

Woodroffe and Williams chose Elstree Light and Power (ELP), previously known as Meteorlites, and run by Ronan Wilson, to provide the lighting system. “Toby Dare, the ELP crew chief, did a fantastic job,” says Woodroffe. “It's all very well looking at Mark's beautiful drawings with their clean lines and cool looks, but when you come to put it all in it's a very different matter. We were making constant changes; sightlines affected a lot of our suppositions.”

The most significant decision of Woodroffe's core lighting design — he provided the lighting infrastructure, Kenyon and Davis then used it to order — was to attach all lamps directly to the ESS roof. “Mark had already conceived this elegant curved structure with clear walls and roof. We did at first consider putting in some interesting-shaped trusses, but what we wanted was to really surprise people with something different; maintaining the clean look of the main structure, keeping that elegant classical look, became our focus.”

In practical terms, this presented a few challenges, not least the fact that ELP had to have custom mounting brackets made for every light (61 Martin MAC 2000s, 34 High End Systems Studio Beams, 12 Studio Colors, and 28 Studio Spots forming the main contingent); it also meant that any lamp failure could only be dealt with by cherry picker, “but there were, fortunately, few,” adds Woodroffe.

There were three Flying Pig Systems Wholehog IIs running 14 DMX universes from the control tower, Woodroffe having called upon the services of his longtime assistant LD Dave Hill to provide ambiance lighting to the Palace Gardens and an architectural treatment to the buildings. The profusion of desk control is explained by Woodroffe's plan to break the lamps into groups that could be reassigned to different desks so both Kenyon and Davis could work on the same physical rig but in differently configured setups.

“In the end it was just another rock show,” is how Woodroffe sums it up, a bit of an understatement for a lineup that included Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Eric Clapton, and Phil Collins, but we know what he means. He also says, “What I learned most was from Bernie and Mark about how to get a perfect TV picture.” From my perspective the key was balance; while Woodroffe is right to say the TV show was picture-perfect, what viewers saw still managed to retain a very tangible live feel. That's a big skill, and one that makes “just another show” into something truly memorable.