2 January 2017
by James Broome
Over the three performance days, 31st December, 1st & 2nd January, a team of drivers and supporters put the cream of British World-Cup style driving in front of some 30,000 people at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
Dick Lane, Daniel Naprous and Wilf Bowman-Ripley were the three drivers and the organising team was James and Alex Broome, Rupert Barnard and Minta Winn.
“When we were originally contacted,” says James, “I thought that we would be putting on a fairly typical British Masters Indoor World Cup style competition.
However, during the planning meetings, it became clear that the Organisers of the Show wanted something a little different”. In fact, there were several parts of the display that were unprecedented and presented something of a challenge.
3 Minutes to Build the Course
The standard time to build and walk a World Cup style course is a minimum of 45 minutes. At LIHS, owing to the performance and production nature of the whole event, the crew were only permitted three minutes from the end of the act prior to the driving, to the carriages first entering the arena. The advantage of working with such a professional team is that there were 21 experienced arena party that we were able to utilise.
On the first rehearsal on 29th December, we came up with the idea that each member of the arena party would be responsible for one obstacle element or one set of cones. After some debate of using GPS technology to accurately position each element of the obstacles, it became clear that the only way to achieve the three minute deadline was to use the arena spotlights to mark the location of each part of the course.
Once these spotlights had been set, the task of positioning each element became much easier and once our arena crew, lead by Rupert, had measured the course, the course was ready for action. The fastest the full course was built was 2 minutes 32 seconds, and the fastest it was cleared was 38 seconds!
The rehearsal on the 29th was also the only time that the drivers were going to be able to walk the course.
The Arena Cross Motorbikes
Watching the professional motocross riders jumping their motorbikes from ramp to ramp across the arena was nothing short of breathtaking. Approximately 50 foot in the air, performing all sorts of stunts, including one particularly jaw dropping back flip, these riders really do know how to put on a show.
The challenge for the driving team was that we had to build our entire course around the two ramps. In addition to this challenge, the ramps were put in slightly different places for each performance, and were also going to be positioned whilst we built our course. This fluctuation only became clear on the second rehearsal on 30th, and made our second obstacle impossible to drive.
Bearing in mind that by this point the 3 drivers were warming up in the collecting ring, it was something of a shock to be instructed to “just change the course”. It was very important that we worked with the organisers and all credit must go to our drivers as, once we had amended the course to fit around the ramps, they managed to learn the new course during the three laps of their parade once they had entered the arena.
An Extra Backstepper
The feature of each of the full performances, which included an opera singer, motorbikes, fire breathing girls, pyrotechnic arena fireworks and an Abba tribute band, was that it would be hosted by three well known equestrian celebrities.
The three presenters were Steven Wilde (number one equestrian commentator in the world), Matt Crowhurst (Channel 4 presenter and professional wake boarder) and Geoff Billington (former Olympian and show jumping personality). These three celebrities would not only host the driving display, but would also ride on the carriages for the competition element of the performance.
The aim of the show was to create a “Top Gear banter” style dialogue between the three celebrities that would also help the crowd get behind each of the drivers. Of course, it presented something of a challenge as carriages are not designed to carry two people on the top step. However, after a trial run at Dick Lane’s yard in November, it was decided that it was possible to carry the extra person on the course.
Although each of the presenters were sure that they would be able to commentate whilst riding on the carriages, not one of them managed to utter a single word! The commentary came from the presenters that we not in action and the commentator located in the judges box, next to our judge, Minta.
The Changing Times
Although we were given extremely accurate timing for each display, owing to the nature of show jumping classes, not once did the performance (before our act) run on time. This meant that the team had to stay incredibly flexible whilst putting to so that the carriages arrived at the warm up arena in enough time to warm up, but also not too early otherwise it would have been full of show jumping horses that would not have been very pleased to see the carriages.
From the offset, it was important to realise that the driving team were a fairly small cog in a rather enormous engine. As such, the only way that it was going work was by everyone in the team working together. In total, there were 25 people involved in our display, (not including the 21 arena party that helped us to build the course in such a short time), each with their own roles.
James’ role was linking the driving team to the rest of the production crew and the Show Director. (The show director role at LIHS was more akin to a show director at a stage show rather than at an equestrian show, liaising with lasers, music, cameras, etc etc). James was in direct contact with the Show Director during the driving display to ensure that carriages entered the arena at precisely the time that the show director wanted, and also to ensure that the celebrities left enough time to leave the arena and put on their body protectors and hard hats before getting on the carriages.
Rupert was responsible for ensuring that the course was built quickly and safely. One of Rupert’s biggest challenges was liaising with the other crews such as the pyrotechnic team that didn’t initially realise the issues involved in having boxes of compressed gas in the middle of the routes that the carriages would be galloping around. This was quickly sorted, and the course was always built in time.
Minta was positioned in the judges’ box and was seated next to the commentator. Minta’s role was to ensure that the bell was rung only when the arena was safe, and also to provide the commentator with the rules and structure of the “competition”.
Alex’s essential job, positioned on the gate, was to ensure that there were no problems in the “tunnel”. One of the biggest challenges was that the one-way route from the warm up arena to the main arena was about 40 meters, and as a result of the curtain half way along, and also owing to a dog-leg in the tunnel, it was impossible to see from one end to the other. This is clearly a big opportunity for problems, but throughout the week, this worked particularly well.
Of course, the real stars were the three drivers and their incredible teams.
Daniel, Dick and Wilf all went beyond the call of duty and did everything to ensure that our “act” remained flexible and punctual. The fact that every team was ready exactly when required is testament to the grooms’ hard work.
On one occasion, Wilf was told that he only had three minutes to warm up, when he was then ready, he was then told to be on standby. This lasted another five minutes, at any time he could have been called into the arena to perform (in front of a capacity crowd of 6,000 people). He was finally called in 11 minutes later.
There are very few drivers that could cope with remaining prepared for that amount of time and remaining utterly professional throughout.
The overwhelming feeling at the end of the five days in Liverpool was one of “Mission Accomplished”. Our friendly team managed to put the sport of Carriage Driving in front of 30,000 people and had a good time doing so.
That’s no mean feat!