Five Minutes with Dominic Reid OBE

Words by
Dominic Reid

8th November 2022

As we approach the Lord Mayor's Show on Saturday November 12th, SPHERE is privileged to catch up with the incredible Pageantmaster Dominic Reid OBE, also CEO of the Invictus Games Foundation, as he prepares his 30th Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show has been part of my life for over 50 years… I was asked to become Pageantmaster Lord Mayor's Show when my father John died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 66.  I had been involved with the Show through him in various ways for 20 years.  And so it was a privilege to be asked to carry his legacy forward.  I only anticipated doing it for a few years, so it’s a surprise to find myself marking my 30th Show!  But it is a wonderful event for which I have enormous fondness, and which I find endlessly enthralling.

The Lord Mayor's Show's Pageantmaster Dominic Reid, OBE
Dominic Reid, OBE

My earliest memory of the Lord Mayor's Show is… going to the Show with my father in the year before he took the job, to see what it was all about.  That would have been 1971 and I would have just turned 11.  Since then it has been an integral part of the rhythm of my life, like Christmas.

John Reid, OBE, photographed by Lord Snowdon
Dominic Reid's father John Reid, OBE, photographed by Lord Snowdon

We have a Lord Mayor’s Show because… each Lord Mayor swears an oath to the Sovereign, on appointment.  This has taken place every year since 1215. And it has happened even in the few years when there hasn’t been a Show.  It was first stipulated in King John’s Charter to the Citizens of London of 1215 and is now enshrined in the City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1959. The Show was cancelled because of COVID in 2020, but before that the last full cancellation was in 1852 for the funeral of the Duke of Wellington.

This year’s event which takes place on November 12th will be… an incredible procession, 3 miles long and taking an hour to pass you on the pavement. It will be a wonderful mixture of floats, dancing and musical groups, marching bands, the military, and horses and carriages.  I consider it to be a platform for good citizenship.  You could interview any one of the 7000 participants and hear a great story about their contribution to society.

The Lord Mayor's Show
The Lord Mayor's Show

I think these ancient ceremonies and pageants appeal to the public because… they strike a deep chord within us.  The Lord Mayor’s Show has been taking place for over 800 years.  It is part of our folk memory.  My experience is that people really value the history and continuity as much as they are excited by the content. That is something which gets not nearly enough airtime, in my view.

Every year I most look forward to … working with a new boss, this year it's Nicholas Lyons. The Lord Mayor is elected in September, but before that he or she is the Senior Alderman Below the Chair, or SABTAC.  I have worked with 30 of them now and enjoyed each creative partnership in a different way.  Many years ago I had a handsome boxer dog that I called Sabtac.

The State Coach is the oldest ceremonial vehicle in the world still in regular use.

The State Coach has been in use since 1757

The recently restored State Coach is the oldest ceremonial vehicle in the world still in regular use

This year’s is poignant because… this will be the 50th Show that my late father and I will have delivered.  It is my 30th and he did the 20 before me.  Before that, the record was held by Thomas Jordan who did 14 Shows between 1671 and 1685. Its extraordinary to have achieved this milestone in the modern age.  And I doubt that it will ever be equalled.  So, it will be poignant watching this particular Show unfold.  Poignant too, because it will be the first Show my mother Sylvia won’t see, she passed away at 98 during the summer. She had the rare privilege of going to Buckingham Palace on two occasions within ten years to see first her husband, and then her son receive the same decoration from Her Late Majesty for doing the same job. Mum was also our sternest critic!

The recently restored State Coach was built in 1757

The painted panels of The State Coach show London's place in the world

The State Coach features painted panels telling allegorical stories about the City, its place in the world and the values it upholds

The biggest challenge in being Pageantmaster is…  also its greatest joy: bringing together all the disparate elements and different people to deliver a truly collaborative venture in real time, unrehearsed and on live television. Every day I learn something new from one of the people involved in the Show or its delivery.

People are so fascinated by the State Coach, which has been in use since 1757, its… a magnificent artefact and the oldest ceremonial vehicle in the world still in regular use. It was both racy and opulent in its day, being of the New Berlin type and projecting messages of modernity and commercial and trading power.  It has been beautifully restored and conserved in recent years which is a source of great joy.  It's painted panels all tell allegorical stories about the City, its place in the world and the values it upholds.  Stephen Fry and I once did a terrific piece to camera about it, but it sadly never made the screen. In 2012 it broke down on the way back to Mansion House and I had to give the Lord Mayor my Land Rover and walk back!

Lord Mayor's Show 2016 Programme
The Lord Mayor’s Show Programme by Illustrated London News featuring Dominic Reid. Illustrated by Brian Grimwood

As CEO of the Invictus Games Foundation my role encompasses... running perhaps the most exciting, fastest growing purpose-led charity today.  As well as delivering extraordinary positive impact on the lives of many wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women and veterans around the world.  It is a great privilege.  And it is also high-energy and at times highly emotional.

It’s always a joy to work with Prince Harry on this because.. it is very much his creation and he is so fully engaged.  He has his late mother’s emotional intelligence and The Duke of Edinburgh’s sense of humour.  He always brings it back to the men and women and their friends and families.  And in doing so he has changed innumerable lives for the better.

With Invictus, because this is Prince Harry’s passion project, my role is to… deliver on the vision that he has created through a well-run modern charity with an international remit.  In doing so I get to meet and work with the most incredible people, from celebrities to Heads of State.  But most impressive and important are the men and women themselves.

Duke of Sussex, Jon Bon Jovi, Dominic ReidThe Duke of Sussex, Jon Bon Jovi and Dominic Reid, OBE David Wiseman and JJ Chalmers,  Abbey Road Studios.
The Duke of Sussex, Jon Bon Jovi and Dominic Reid, OBE with wounded veterans David Wiseman and JJ Chalmers at Abbey Road Studios.

My most treasured possession is... my ‘cello.  It was a gift from my mother when I was 13 and I was preparing for my music scholarship.  It is a beautiful eighteenth century Saxon instrument with many memories attached to it.  I only wish that I could play it better now… and did so more often

My training as an architect taught me… not to be frightened of the big idea. It taught me to think visually, grasp the big picture at the same time as considering the smallest detail. And of course there is something inherently architectural about using the City as the setting for an event.

Photograph: John Donat, courtesy of Drawing Matter and Real foundation

Photograph: John Donat, courtesy of Drawing Matter and Real foundation

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's scheme for Mansion House Square.

My favourite building is… Mies van der Rohe’s Mansion House Square tower. Coincidentally the photograph of my dad as Pageantmaster by Snowden was taken in his capacity as an expert witness in the Mansion House Square public enquiry. It was never built of course, and remains one of London’s greatest missed opportunities.  But it was the epitome of Mies’s work, the most perfect tower he designed.  My post-graduate architectural thesis revolved around an imaginary London created out of extraordinary unbuilt projects and demolished buildings.  As the saying goes… London will be amazing when it’s finished!

The piece of furniture I wish I owned is… an Eames lounge chair and ottoman.  First produced in 1956. It is modernity, luxury and craftsmanship in one beautiful bundle.

The best meal I’ve ever eaten in London... was during lockdown when Relais de Venise started to do takeaway!  We journeyed across London to get our baguettes stuffed with rare steak, frites and that wonderful green sauce. And we sat in splendid COVID isolation in the car, with the juice running down our chins and big grins on our faces.

Soldiers at the Lord Mayor's Show
Military procession at the Lord Mayor’s Show

The highlight of my career so far has to be… a tight call between the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society, which was the most stimulating and mind-expanding piece of work I have ever done. And the Tribute and Promise Parade in 1995 which marked the 50th anniversary of VJ Day.  The things I saw and felt that day changed my life. And probably set me on the path toward Invictus.

To do my job, I can’t do without...  a sense of humour, an ox-like constitution, and an eye for detail.  I knew a wonderful researcher at the BBC, of the old school, who once told me “it’s nice work dear…if you don’t weaken”.  How right she was! 

The book I last read… War by Sebastian Junger.   It is one of two books recently recommended to me by a wounded colleague to better understand why we do what we do at Invictus. The other is Tribe, by the same author.

My guiltiest pleasure is… Aesop toiletries and Budd & Co nightshirts.

The project closest to my heart is... my home in Norfolk.  It is a great joy to return to the calm of the country.  And I derive great pleasure from curating a seventeenth century building and the things I care about within it, in a Kettle’s Yard-ish kind of way.

The next question on my mind is… Everything! I am an inveterate over-thinker and I wouldn’t be any good at my job if I didn’t lean into that.

For further information: Lord Mayor’s Show  Invictus Games Foundation 

Thank you Dominic Reid, OBE