Behind the Scenes of Europe's Best Event

A cast of 6,000, 128,000 spectators, including 15,000 VIPs, over 622 journalists. I'm talking about the Battle of Waterloo Bicentenary Commemoration. The winner of the European Best Event Award 2015. An insight in what made this event so special.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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A cast of 6,000, 128,000 spectators, including 15,000 VIPs, over 622 journalists, generating 11,500 articles worldwide. I'm talking about the Battle of Waterloo Bicentenary Commemoration. The winner of the European Best Event Award 2015. An insight in what made this event so special.


Hi Annemie, Vinciane, welcome to our studio.  


Thank you. 


Congratulations with your award, quite an achievement. Why was this event so special?  


I think it's special because of the topic. It's a topic that triggers many people's fantasy. And many people think about Waterloo and Napoleon. Worldwide it rings a bell somewhere, being from history books, or from hearing stories about it.  


But maybe to start with: Let's look at a clip.  


Please do. 


Video footage of event.


That looks impressive. Such big numbers! Logistically that must have been quite a big challenge. 


Yeah, it was really a big challenge. Just imagine a battlefield of 52 hectare. But it's not only just a battlefield, it's also a World Unesco Heritage Battlefield. And there was nothing, so we really had to put everything there. We had 24 grandstands for 50,000 guests coming every night. And also it was not as if you could arrive with a normal truck, so we really needed to put a road, made of 2 ,000 metal sheets, so it was amazing. And above that we had a production village, which was made of old containers. We had a VIP area: 60,000 square meters of tent. Just in a place where you had nothing in the beginning. You had to build everything from scratch? Everything from scratch, yeah. And we had to take everything away, knowing that the fields had to be intact afterwards. 


Because it was Unesco Heritage?  


Yeah, the terrain itself is property of farmers and they have to be able to cultivate a season later. I don't know, potatoes or whatever. 


No garbage? 


No garbage, indeed. And it is Unesco protected on top of that, yeah. 


More than 6,000 re-enactors. Are those actors? Or how should I see them? 


The re-enactors we had on the battlefield were people who presented their candidature, and they all had to be members of associations, military or re-enactment associations. 


I didn't know there were organizations like that.  


Yeah, there are many of them. And those who can participate in the re- enactment of the Napoleontic era had to be either from the Allied forces, being the German, Dutch and British forces, or from the French forces, of course, for Napoleon. And they had to bring in their candidature online, with a whole CV that had to be selected. And you had almost 8,000 candidates, from which we selected 5,000 military re-enactors, and a bit more than 1,200 civilian re-enactors. 


And everybody wanted to be Napoleon? 


Yes, many people wanted to be Napoleon, but even to be Napoleon they had to put in their candidature and worldwide there used to be 3 persons that were allowed to play Napoleon. And the 2 major persons had to... 


Have a combat? 


The selection committee had the candidatures of both and they selected a person to be Napoleon. 


Okay, but so many people on what is not actually a stage... How do you make sure everybody's at the right place at the right moment, and get a thing like that working?  


Well, logistically it's... Well, just imagine also: it's not like a normal show where you have rehearsals. You have no rehearsals. Because they're all part of a regiment and they all have their orders. So they make some rehearsals just in their regiment. You had all the bivouacs also and they all had their space. And if you were a visitor you could see: "ahh, there is something happening", and they were just training in the bivouacs. But when they are on the battlefield, they only follow their orders. So in fact it cannot be bad. 


So it was also for you a surprise to see. 


Yeah, and how seriously they take it. Because indeed, as Vinciane says, the bivouacs were the encampments, where all the military people were sleeping, and slept in the exact conditions in which the soldiers and officers were also sleeping and eating and taking care of their material 200 years ago, and training and taking care of their animals, their horses for instance. And maintaining their weapons. And the training of the military movements and the attacks and stuff were all trained in the encampments, and the people could visit the encampments and see as if they were walking through history, how people lived 200 years ago during a military... Or a war, actually. 


On top of that, there were over 622 international journalists on the site. 


We had an enormous amount of requests for press, and we were very happy that we had the support of the WBT; the Walloons-Brussels Tourism Office, which helped us get in touch with European and even international press that was also interested in coming over. From the States to China, from New Zealand to Australia, to French and Dutch and German press. 


Yes, 11,500 articles written. If you try to achieve that with another event... Maybe the Olympics, but...  


It might be difficult. The Olympics get probably twice that amount. But indeed, Waterloo and Napoleon are two topics which are inspiring people, and people want to know more about it, and it's two words that are critical to our European history. And worldwide history, because due to the defeat at Waterloo the European map was redesigned, and the basis of what Europe is now was decided in that period. The funny thing is: everyone remembers Napoleon who in fact lost the battle, and the Duke of Wellington... The people are like: "who is the Duke of Wellington?" But no, really the Duke of Wellington won, so that's a little story.  


But that's also important: you have the battle, but then a lot of viewers who don't know anything about the battle, how do you make sure they know what's happening on all those fields? 


Apart from what happened on the field during the re-enactments, here in advance we started up our Facebook page, our website, our Twitter account, our Youtube channel. So we activated all these different social media to inform people and give them a taste of what life was like 200 years ago. A nice mixture of facts and figures, but also anecdotes and nice elements that could bring it back to life and make it more relevant today as well. For instance, we had numerous topics about food and beverages. Many things we do now in our kitchen and our households were in existence before the Battle of Waterloo took place and before that period. So we had a mixture of recipes, a way of conserving food, how people during the war had to do it. And all these elements made it more relevant to people today. On the battlefield we also had a commentator. So he was explaining the different movements and what happened and what we could see. And there were part of the public who were really aficionados and who really knew everything about the story and they could just tell the story like the commentator but then you had other people who were totally not aware of what was happening, and that was quite interesting, to have someone just telling: "okay, they move on the right side because they are doing this", so that was quite easy for the guests. 


Then you presented the case at the EUBEAs. Why do you think you won the award?  


Because we were good (laughs). 


Of course, but what made your event stand out over there? 


I think the event combined a lot of different things. Not only the fact that we were just organising an event which was... In fact the first ... was to organise the event, and we responded also by saying: "okay, but we also take the risks". Commercial and financial risks. We are a delegated producer and that's quite different. The jury said: one thing that was really important was the fact that we took all the financial risks. So it was not just: "okay, we'll do the event", but: "no, we'll do everything from A to Z". So that was one important thing, and we also organised 360° degrees so all the different aspects were in this case. And VO Communication, being the lead agency, combined with Verhulst Events and Partners, which took care of the sponsorship and the VIP, and then Voice Agency and other suppliers, during 1,5 year we were all constantly working together, and bringing the same story. 


That mix really works, because there was nobody around that didn't know about the event. 


And even the delegates... I don't know how you call them, but all the competitors, they were really... Not really proud of us, but they were like: "your event was great. I would love to organise an event like this one day". 


You can't do that every year, of course. 


Maybe in 50 years, but we will not be there anymore. True, we could try to visit or be a guest on the 250th anniversary in a wheelchair. 


Congratulations again, and thank you for coming over.  


Thank you very much.  


And you at home: thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!