Wales

Queen's Speech 2015: Cardiff man lights the way

State opening of Parliament in 2009 Image copyright ALASTAIR GRANTAFP/Getty
Image caption The State Opening of Parliament takes place every May

As the Queen prepares to deliver her speech at her 62nd State Opening of Parliament, everyone's eyes will be fixed on her. Apart from one man.

His eyes will be focused on a lighting board making sure there are no unsightly shadows on the monarch's face.

That man is 70-year-old John Dowzell who is responsible for lighting scores of events at Parliament every year and has done for the past 30 years.

He has had a front row seat at every event from the lying in state of the Queen Mother to Nelson Mandela's visit shortly before his death.

But it is the State Opening of Parliament Mr Dowzell from Cardiff most looks forward to.

He says the thrill of sitting across from the Queen in the House of Lords never fades.

But he is not decked in robes of the pomp and ceremony going on around him, instead he is sat in a box making sure every moment is perfectly lit.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Margaret Thatcher, at the State Opening in 1985, was Prime Minister when Mr Dowzell first started

He is one of the few members of the public to have witnessed the Queen's speech in person and has done every year since 1984.

His big moment of the day comes just before the Queen arrives.

"I sit in the House of Lords when the Queen comes because as she is walking down the Royal Gallery, we have got to turn the lights down to inform them she is coming in, then I raise them as well just before she walks in.

"Everything is planned to the minute.

"Every time I still get a buzz."

Image copyright John Dowzell
Image caption Mr Dowzell has memorised many of Parliament's hidden passages and walkways

He came close to meeting the Queen in person once at a reception for people who had worked for her for 25 years but, as he stood in line, he saw a light flickering out the corner of his eye.

"I told the person I was standing next to I'd be back, and just nipped out of line to tell my crew to switch it off," said Mr Dowzell. "But when I got back the Queen had already been and gone. That was my one opportunity to meet her."

Normally the lighting specialist is keeping a watchful eye on the monarch at the official occasions, to ensure she is well-lit at all times.

"Every one of the openings is stressful as I can't ask the Queen to go back and do it again.


The State Opening

Image copyright Russell Boyce/AFP/Getty
Image caption The pomp surrounding the State Opening is watched across the world
  • Members of both the House of Commons and Lords gather in the House of Lords for the speech
  • They are joined by guests including judges, ambassadors and high commissioners
  • Members of the public cannot attend the State Opening
  • Roads around the Houses of Parliament are closed before the ceremony
  • The afternoon after the Queen's Speech Parliament returns to normal with both houses debating the policies laid out

"It is always stressful, it has got to work and it has got to be right first time.

"Once the Queen is in I just want everything to be right."

It takes weeks to prepare for the event, with Mr Dowzell and a crew of six people lighting 11 different areas through the Houses of Parliament - each of which the Queen walks through on her way to give the speech.

"I have been doing it for so many years now it is just done now. We have to start preparations six weeks in advance as we can only do the work on weekends as Parliament is sitting and the public go through it. It takes about 10 days to put it together."

But it took him years to make sense of the labyrinth of hidden passages in the Houses of Parliament.

Image copyright Sion Davies/Facebook
Image caption The view from lighting rigged up inside the Houses of Parliament

"They are a maze," said Mr Dowzell. "It took me around eight years to figure it all out.

"I could take you somewhere via one route, and then to the same place the next day by a completely different way, and you wouldn't know you were going to the same destination.

"I have to know the routes so I can run my lines for the lights through so as little as possible is on show."

Mr Dowzell also lights all state visits to the Houses of Parliament.

Image caption The Queen on her way to the State Opening of parliament

"I have done Mandela, Clinton and Obama. All the French Presidents and whoever has come along since 1984, last year we did Chancellor Merkel and the Irish President. We also do choirs. orchestras, meals and deaths."

Sometimes Mr Dowzell has months of notice of events, but on other occasions he has just days.

He said: "I did the Queen Mother lying in state, we had five days to set it all out. We then manned it 24 hours a day for the days she was lying in state.

"The most touching thing I saw was when Mandela visited, he was frail, and it was amazing as (Speaker of the House) Betty Boothroyd actually walked him down the stairs because they took all the rails away. It was very emotional."

Coverage of the State Opening of Parliament begins on BBC One and the BBC News Channel at 10:30 BST. You can also watch online via Democracy Live.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Guests and politicians at the State Opening of Parliament in 2013

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