19 September 2019
Maureen Earls, managing director of Central Venue Management, is deeply proud of her role in the 1997 handover ceremonies. Photo: HKEJ
Maureen Earls, managing director of Central Venue Management, is deeply proud of her role in the 1997 handover ceremonies. Photo: HKEJ

The untold story of the 1997 handover ceremony

Maureen Earls, 56, has over 30 years of experience in event planning and management.

But all of the other events she has handled pale in comparison to the one big project in her career: the 1997 handover ceremonies.

Earls, who has been living in Hong Kong since 1992, is deeply proud of her role in that event.

She and her team spent more than half a year to prepare for the entire project. She had to frequently meet up with Christopher Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, for every bit of detail of that most important day in history.

“I really like him. I think he does genuinely care for Hong Kong,” she said of Patten.

Earls was actually in charge of two events, one was the daytime farewell ceremony in Tamar on June 30, and the other was the reunification ceremony at midnight of July 1.

Everyone would recall it was raining heavily during the farewell ceremony, but few people knew the organizers had thought of cutting short the ceremony right after the governor’s speech, which meant the performance that was to follow had to be canceled.

It was a huge show of 600 participants, over half of them children.

No more than three minutes after the decision to cancel the show was made, Earls was told that the young performers insisted on performing regardless of the heavy rain.

So she approached Patten, saying he and the other guests could leave first, but the kids would stay on to complete the show.

Learning the arrangement, Patten said he must stay there for the kids.

“This really shows Hongkongers’ ‘can-do’ spirit,” Earls said.

Instead of sending the honorable guests to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai for the second ceremony, Earls had to escort them back to the hotel and let them change their rain-drenched clothes.

Earls’ top mission in the reunification ceremony was to ensure Hong Kong was to be handed over from the British government to China at midnight sharp.

It meant she needed to get the timing of the movement of the flags right.

“The national flag of the United Kingdom should start descending at 11:59:20, while the national flag of China and Hong Kong SAR flag should start running up at 12 o’clock.

“However, I guess we were a few seconds late for the ascending!” Earls recalled, adding that they had done 10 rounds of rehearsals to ensure that it was perfect.

“But I think the media thought we were punctual,” Earls said light-heartedly. “Thanks to the days people didn’t have their smartphones.”

At present, Earls is the managing director of Central Venue Management (CVM), a job she enjoys so much, partly because it allows her to bike at the Central Harbourfront.

In all the events she handles, she takes particular interest in waste management. She would make sure the food stalls use the least packaging, and the separation of recyclables is properly done.

Her seven-member team has been handling a wide range of big events, the AIA Great European carnival, the Cavalia equestrian theatrical shows, the Lai Yuen Super Summer carnival, the Beertopia craft beer festival, and many others.

The company won a three-year contract with the government in May last year, so we can expect many more exciting events to be arranged by Earls and her team at the Central waterfront until 2016.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 27.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Earls (left) also helped in the preparations for Macau’s reunification with China in 1999. Photo: HKEJ

Earls said the ascent of the national flag of China and the Hong Kong SAR flag was a few seconds late. Photo: HKEJ

Earls and her happy family. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal