Advent has handled many major announcements down the years, but I can’t remember anything quite like the week surrounding Coventry’s UK City of Culture success.
The media interest was immense but, of course, they had to plan for any of the five cities winning as there was – remarkably – not a single leak. That meant there were masses of ‘if you win, we’ll need this, this and this’ conversations taking place with local, regional and national journalists in the days leading up.
And they wanted every scrap of information – from what’s the meaning behind Sent to Coventry to how many pubs there are in the city.
It was an electrifying, no-let-up kind of a week but, ultimately, it was very much worth it.
To be able stand just in the wings of The One Show set alongside the other hopeful cities’ representatives and see (I saw the name come out of the golden envelope before I heard the word) minister John Glen reveal it was Coventry that had been selected, was a truly memorable moment.
I cheered. Loudly. I’ve watched it back on the One Show and can hear myself above everything else. How embarrassing! Years of reporting on football should have seen me hold back (you never cheer in the press box – even if your side scores a late winner) but, Advent has worked on this for more than two-and-a-half years with some incredible people, and knowing exactly what it means to Coventry, meant I couldn’t hold it in.
Some of those around me hadn’t heard the result, but did hear me cheer so I had to sheepishly break it to them that we’d won. WE HAD WON.
Work mode kicked in almost immediately and we were suddenly working alongside the press team from the DCMS to get David Burbidge, Laura McMillan, Louis Lewinson, Justine Themen and Emma Harrabin in front of national TV cameras and on the phone to radio stations and newspapers.
They, alongside Martin Reeves, had wowed the judges the day before, so a few questions from the media didn’t faze them!
It was key, too, to make sure that the local and regional journalists got what they needed after the result. The backing from the media in Coventry and Warwickshire for City of Culture has been magnificent and I genuinely believe it had a hand in the final victory.
So it was vital that they didn’t suddenly get left out because the national interest in Coventry had gone off the scale. I think we got the balance absolutely right.
Rob Milne and I were making sure that happened in Hull while Ryan Merriman and Adam Dent were doing the same down in Coventry where the Belgrade Theatre looked like the Alamo, surrounded by media trucks, and the demand for interviews was just as high. It was a genuine team effort.
It’s been an amazing two-and-a-half years and there is no doubt in my mind that Coventry fielded the best bid and the correct outcome was assured.
From a media perspective, everything that was great about the campaign was encapsulated in those few days around the win.
People were willing to be put up for interview knowing full well that they might be dropped if the media chose to speak to someone else. Never once did they complain. People were willing to get up before 5am to let in BBC Breakfast to ensure more great coverage for the city on a national scale. And people were happy to stand or perform in the freezing cold to help bring TV coverage to life on the Friday evening.
The tangible result of those 72 hours was around 4,000 mentions of Coventry 2021 across UK media, the less tangible was the real sense of civic pride at the achievement. If we hadn’t won, there’s no question that Coventry’s national profile had been raised over the course of the two years and there is no question it would have been worth bidding.
But what we saw in those final few weeks was people from all communities rallying round to help in the campaign to give it the vital final push to help the city win. And we did win.
And it’s incredible to have been part of it.