'I don't want it to be boring': Former circus producer reveals plans for Diamond Jubilee river parade

Ian Burrell meets Adrian Evans, the man sticking an oar into the Thames Pageant.

There was a time during his circus days when Adrian Evans was more than happy to test the boundaries of health and safety with a couple of chainsaws or a motorcycle wall of death. He needs to be a little more cautious now the Queen has been entrusted into his care.

Evans is Pageant Master for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, taking place on 3 June. He's presiding over the most ambitious event ever staged on the River Thames. Security is a key concern but he has another fear. "You don't want it to be boring," he says.

He wants this pageant to be more memorable than any of the previous great processions down London's aquatic thoroughfare, from Churchill's state funeral to George I being serenaded by Handel's Water Music in 1717. Evans even plans to overshadow the extravagant unveiling by Charles II of his new wife Catherine of Braganza in a procession witnessed by Samuel Pepys from the riverbank in 1662. "The most magnificent triumph that ever floated on the Thames, considering the innumerable boates and vessells dress'd and adorn'd with all imaginable pomp," was the diarist's verdict.

Evans, 54, has dedicated his working life to creating spectacles. For years he produced the anarchic French circus troupe Archaos, and he has overseen many music festivals, including London's Millennium celebrations. He has also "immersed" himself in the history and cultural importance of London's great river, having directed the Mayor's Thames Festival since founding the event 15 years ago.

But the pressure of this occasion still weighs heavily. "I am trying to relish and enjoy every second of it because I know that it is a one-off but there's an enormous pressure that this goes well," he says. "Because you are always in a crowded room when things go well but if it doesn't, everyone disappears out the side doors and you are left on your lonely own-some to face the music."

There are likely to be more than one million people lining the river when the pageant takes place on 3 June. The first thing that they will hear as the flotilla approaches from the west will be the peel of eight mighty church bells cast especially for the event at a foundry in Whitechapel, east London, which has been going since the 16th-century. In their immediate wake will be a mass of man-powered boats, including an 18th- century craft brought up from Mount St Michael in Cornwall, the oldest vessel in the pageant.

Evans is determined the 75-minute event will be "exciting theatrically" and has told the skippers to "cluster" in close proximity. "They are navigating at one boat's distance which takes an extraordinary confidence," he says. Only sailors with experience of tidal waters have been permitted to take part.

"It's a really treacherous environment. On the tides you can get a wave which is more than a metre high at London Bridge. 1,000 vessels on the Thames is a mega challenge. If even one person goes into the river and drowns that is what this event is going to be known for, not for having transported the other 29,999 safely," Evans says.

He is working from an office close to the Oxo Tower at Blackfriars. As part of the first Thames Festival he organised a tightrope to be stretched from the tower to a point on the north side of the river. Two of his Archaos daredevils then walked towards each other from opposite riverbanks. "One of the guys laid down on his back and the other walked over him [when they met]. It was an astonishing thing to happen in London, and with the most beautiful sunset and a low tide," he recalls.

Evans was born by the river, at Woolwich, and grew up on the coast in Poole in a military family. He studied history of art at Edinburgh but indulged his loves of theatre and music by founding the Bedlam theatre company and working in a jazz club.

He has commissioned 11 of Britain's finest composers (including Gavin Greenaway, who wrote the score for the film Gladiator, and Anne Dudley, who won an Oscar for The Full Monty score) to provide music for the "New Water Music" boat. Evans hopes one of these pieces will "topple Handel from his position of supremacy", after 300 years in which the Baroque composer's music has been associated with the Thames. The original Water Music will be played by the Academy of Ancient Music on period instruments, sailing ahead of the Royal Squadron.

Evans faces particular challenges in making the Queen a focal point. "I want the royal barge to fulfil the same role as the gold coach does on these state pageants. But on land you have this jewel of a gold coach and this phalanx of cavalry behind which magnifies the royal presence and adds grandeur and drama. So I issued a challenge to the Navy to come up with a water equivalent." Consequently a number of Offshore Raiding Craft will accompany the barge.

The Pageant Master thought long and hard about whether he should have a "Brian May moment", referring to the Queen guitarist's solo of "God Save The Queen" from the roof of the Party at the Palace in 2002. "The star is her, not a pop star who is trying to shift some more records. It is in recognition of her 60 years and you don't get a bigger star than her," he says. "When I stopped thinking about should I get X or Y rock band, it was a liberating step to make. There's so much baggage that surrounds the celebrity mob that it's much better to have one big celebrity than a bunch of others – they can watch."

Similarly he has shunned commercial sponsorship. "I didn't want any commercial branding on the river. There is no McDonald's boat and just no branded boat because I think that diminishes it. And that of course is a great challenge to those raising money because these days the way you get money for this sort of thing is by forcing brands down people's throats."

A £10m budget has been raised mostly by personal donations. But despite such goodwill, Evans remains nervous that riverside householders might still try to cash in on the event. "The message should go out to people to do this right as a city and a country," he says, by way of an appeal. "It's a moment to be proud and putting a product banner down the side of a building doesn't seem to me to be setting the right tone."

The protest drama at this year's Boat Race has prompted a further review of security. "It forced us to go back and ask 'Are we robust enough?' I suspect there will be more crowd management and policing which is unfortunate because it just means that the bill will go up because Trenton Oldfield has done his thing."

But Evans will not be short of support, not least from the watermen and the rest of the working river community which has grown since the clean-up of the Thames and the increased congestion in the city's streets. They want to see the procession of the 50 Dunkirk little ships, the 16 Chinese dragon boats, the sea kayaks, the tugboats and the fireboats spouting water jets 70 feet into the air.

"This is one of the biggest events that London will ever have put on," Evans says. "The estimation is that we will have a congested city centre from Putney right down to Greenwich and you want people to be excited by what they see."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links