Sir Michael Parker had a short but fine career in the Regiment as a Troop Leader in Detmold and Berlin, as a Schools Gunnery Instructor at Lulworth, and then as Adjutant in Singapore and Hohne.
He then directed the Royal Tournament for many years as an Army Emergency Reserve Officer of the Regiment, rapidly becoming an internationally renowned producer of spectacular events, and being Knighted for services to the Royal Family. He has left important bequests and archives to the Regimental Collection Trust: a display will be in the Museum to plans approved by him.
He was a passionate regimental officer who considered The Regiment as ‘his family’. His life is well documented in his autobiography ‘It’s All Going Terribly Wrong’. In the Foreword, Sir Cameron Mackintosh wrote ‘America may have given us P.T. Barnum and Florenz Ziegfeld, but Michael Parker in full military flood makes Andrew Lloyd Webber and me feel like wallflowers.’
At Sandhurst, he wrote and presented the Academy Revue to such success that he was congratulated on an academy parade by the Academy Sergeant Major Jacky Lord. Pat Howard-Dobson, next to be CO, also saw it – which helped his interview of Parker for acceptance for the Regiment the following day.
On joining the Regiment, he quickly turned his talents to events: theatrical productions of Becket and Richard III and a series of dances for the Officers’ Mess which earned QOH their reputation for giving the best and probably the wildest parties in the Army. Although a junior officer, Parker was asked, initially to fill in, to run the Berlin Tattoo in the magnificent Olympic Stadium. He used the venue to its full potential several times, earning an MBE while still only a subaltern.
Parker left the Army in 1971, beginning his civilian career as an antique dealer. However, in all, he produced over three hundred events. These included the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, twenty-six Royal Tournaments (leading to a CBE), the fireworks display in 1981 for the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales (replicating the Royal Fireworks of 1749), the VE and VJ Day celebrations, and the celebrations for the eightieth, ninetieth and one-hundredth birthdays of the Queen Mother (our Colonel in Chief), after which he was made KCVO and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Inevitably there were a few mishaps, which few people noticed among the stupendous effects. At the Silver Jubilee bonfire, when The Queen lit the fuse the officer due to set off the electrical firing device lost his nerve and ignited the bonfire early. Parker had to confess to her that everything was going wrong but she graciously replied “Oh good. What fun!” This incident gave rise to the title of his autobiography. From then on she would greet him with a twinkle ‘What’s gone wrong this evening, Michael?’
Charity events included, from 1981, ‘The Story of Christmas’ in a London church, which grew to become ‘Joy to the World’ in the Royal Albert Hall, ‘Music on Fire’ at Sandhurst for the ‘Not Forgotten’ Association; and in 1979 the World’s Largest Children’s Party in aid of the International Year of the Child for fifty thousand disadvantaged children with the world’s longest sausage at 9.98 miles.
His prowess extended overseas where, among many, he did a production for United Kingdom National Day at the International Expo in Seville and, in 1991 organised the entertainment for the heads of state attending a G7 Summit – earning him a letter of thanks from President Bush (Senior).
In Saudi Arabia, he organised the world’s largest-ever Exhibition of the Horse and the celebrations for the centenary of King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. In Jordan for the thirty-fifth anniversary of the coronation of King Hussein, he laid on an outdoor ‘Royal Tournament’ in the desert, and the celebrations for the weddings of Prince Faisal and Prince Abdullah, for which he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Al Istiqlal (Independence).
His success was much due to his extraordinary imagination and vision as well as his artistic ability – he was even able to draw his designs. Among his simple maxims were – have a big idea then double it; if it is easy to do, it is not worth doing; try never to tell people what is meant to happen, then they will not realise when it has not, and stand as close as possible to the principal guest so that you can present your excuses when things go wrong!
His charm and powers of persuasion showed early with Blackie Blackshaw, (of the Blackshaw bequest to the QRH Collection and medals featured in the new Museum). Blackie was a very fair but fearsome QM who didn’t suffer fools, of which head of the list was subalterns with wild schemes. And Parker’s qualities, with his reputation for producing astounding events, later meant that show business celebrities would take part in them, and many become close friends. He personally raised funds of several million pounds for the costs of his charitable shows.
Parker was a very faithful friend keeping in touch with all, especially his Berlin troop. His great hospitality featured lunch parties after the Cavalry Memorial Parade, pre-Christmas parties for friends and his many godchildren and when he moved to the country, biannual massive lunch parties. He must have been tough. He rowed in his school’s first eight, and he put up with ongoing heart trouble and operations, and many migraines. In the end, he doubled his doctor’s life expectancy forecast.
Parker married Emma Bagwell Purefoy (née Gilroy) who survives him. After a difficult start in life, he found a family and happiness in the Regiment, then latterly in his family with Emma who had worked with him, her son Oliver and his wife Rebecca – kindred spirits in theatricals, and their two children, whom he adored. They all supported him wonderfully throughout.
Maj Sir Michael Parker died on the 28th of November 2022. He served with QOH from 1961-80.