From abandoned baby to a place beside the Queen - the extraordinary story of the royal pageant master
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Meet Her Majesty's pageant master Bruno Peek, the Gorleston man abandoned as a baby in charge of worldwide celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
On June 2 a chain of thousands of fiery beacons will circle the country and the Commonwealth, launching a worldwide celebration of the Queen’s 70 years on the throne.
The Queen herself is expected to be part of the ceremony to light the beacon at Buckingham Palace – with Gorleston man Bruno Peek beside her.
At ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 2 he will see the royal beacon signal the start of an unprecedented weekend of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, alongside beacons across the country, including more than 70 in Norfolk and, for the first time a beacon in the capital city of every Commonwealth country.
Bruno created the worldwide tribute to Her Majesty after masterminding chains of beacons for national celebrations including the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond jubilees.
His extraordinary trajectory from abandoned baby to royal pageant master began around the same time as Queen Elizabeth’s reign started – and just a few miles from where George VI died, at Sandringham, heralding the start of the new Elizabethan era.
Bruno, now 70, was born in King’s Lynn to a Polish couple, but that is just about all he knows about his parents as 14 months later Bruno, and his identical twin brother George, were abandoned outside the town’s police station. They were taken to a children’s home, where they lived until they were adopted, aged four, by Gorleston couple Mildred and Leslie Peek. “They filled our lives with so much love,” said Bruno.
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Bruno still lives just a few streets away from his childhood home – but also moves in a world of royalty and military and international leaders.
“I didn’t really have any ambitions,” said Bruno. “Both me and my brother left school bottom of the class without any qualifications at all.
“I started out in a bakery, then I became a butcher, but not a candlestick maker!” said Bruno. (Although he has since put that right by organising thousands of what could be called the biggest candlesticks ever, topped with huge blazes.)
He worked as a builders' labourer, a welder, and made prams at the Swallow Prams factory in the town. He might have joined the Army, but had asthma as a child. “I was in Gorleston Army Cadets. It taught me how to iron, how to clean my shoes, taught me a lot of discipline, they were really good,” he said. He and George both played drums in were in the Cadets’ band. A little later Bruno was lead singer in local band Train. “I couldn’t sing but nobody cared in those days!” said Bruno. “I was a terrible singer wearing a horrendous satin suit. But I was really interested in performance and putting on a good event.”
Tragedy struck when Bruno was 22 and his beloved twin brother killed himself. “It was dreadful, devastating beyond belief, especially for my mum and dad,” he said.
From that low point Bruno began realising he could make a difference in his community. While working as a welder he was asked to help revive Yarmouth Carnival – and set up a committee which, in 1981, delivered a carnival procession of more than 100 floats.
“I thought, ‘I like doing this, I like bringing people together, especially in celebration, we don’t do enough of that.’” said Bruno. “Now I've got years of experience. You learn by your mistakes and by your successes. It started from Yarmouth carnival.”
He contacted the English Tourist Board with an idea – and in 1981 organised a chain of 90 beacons around the coast, called Operation Sea Fire.
That led to its own chain reaction with events growing bigger and bigger until his beacons were circling the world and the boy from the King’s Lynn children’s home was hobnobbing with royalty.
“I never dreamed I’d meet the Queen. I still pinch myself. It’s a great honour to serve the Queen and I feel that this year, we all want to make it successful for her because she’s led our nation for 70 years, through very difficult times,” said Bruno. “My heart went out to her and my hat came off for her when I saw her at Windsor Castle, in Windsor chapel, at the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh. That showed what a true leader she was.”
One sadness is that his parents did not live long enough to see everything he has achieved, but his mother was delighted to watch him being presented to the Queen when she visited Great Yarmouth.
“My mother and father were great royalists. She ran the Guides in Norfolk for 50 years. We always used to watch the Queen’s Speech, we’d never miss it, and if there was anything royal going on we’d watch it if it was on television,” said Bruno. “My mother saw me meeting the Queen once. She was very proud. But they both sadly died before the Millennium.”
Since then he has organised thousands of beacons across the UK celebrating the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden, Diamond and now Platinum jubilees.
“The royal family are lovely people to work with,” he said. “The Queen is absolutely my favourite royal. As far as I’m concerned they are all so nice. They have always treated me with respect and have always been so easy to work with.”
After spending three years of his early childhood in a children’s home, Bruno, who has a deep religious faith, decided in 2009 to move to Kenya to help at a children’s home he had supported for many years. “I sold my house and all my belongings and got half-way there when I had an issue with my health. I got to Nairobi and then they bought me straight home again. But that’s life,” he said.
He loves living in Gorleston. “Gorleston is a real community. I can walk down the High Street and I know people, they know me, I can have a laugh with people. It’s a lovely community,” he said.
“I did have some curiosity about my birth parents for a while but then I thought it’s best to leave sleeping dogs lie. We’re talking about 70 years ago. To abandon two boys was a big decision. The thing I did find out was that my father worked at a garage in King’s Lynn but I didn’t go any further.”
Eight years ago Bruno married Moira, who runs the Pub on the Prom in Yarmouth. “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. Moira, like Bruno, is a twin – with her twin running the Cliff Hotel in Gorleston.
Official recognition of his work includes being awarded an OBE, being appointed a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order by the Queen and becoming a Freeman of the City of London. He even has his own crest – and a collection of the torches the Queen has used to light his beacons.
He also designed the ceremonial globe in gold, silver and platinum, which will be used to light the beacon at Buckingham Palace. The Commonwealth of Nations Globe includes a crown, map of the Commonwealth countries and stones collected from the top of the four highest peaks in the UK. “I wanted it to represent all the jubilees,” said Bruno.
And is there a pageant master’s palace? “If there is I haven’t found it!” said Bruno. “Anyway I like to keep my feet firmly on the ground. People put a lot of trust in me, people put a lot of faith in me and the last thing they want is someone showing off.”
Platinum Jubilee beacon timetable
More than 1,500 beacons will be lit for the Platinum Jubilee on June 2, from city centres to mountaintops and tiny villages to Buckingham Palace.
As well as the public beacons across the country (with more than 70 in Norfolk alone) there are also private beacons on farms and country estates – and the principal beacon at Buckingham Palace.
Most will be lit at 9.45pm. In Norfolk there will be public beacons at Sandringham and outside Norwich City Hall and in most of the towns and larger villages.
Beacons in the capital city of each of the 54 Commonwealth countries will be lit at 9.15pm their time.
A chain of beacons along Hadrian’s Wall will be lit at 10pm.
Beacons will also be lit at the top of Britain’s four highest peaks at 9.45pm by veterans from the Norfolk-based injured veterans charity Walking with the Wounded. They blaze from the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mount Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in England and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland.
For full details of the 2022 celebrations, and all the public beacons, visit queensjubileebeacons.com
Norfolk’s part in A Song for the Commonwealth
As well as masterminding the beacons, Bruno Peek coordinated town criers, pipers and choirs to take part in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Town criers will read a special proclamation, pipers will play Diu Regnare, specially written for the occasion, and choirs around the world will sing A Song for the Commonwealth as the beacons are lit.
The song, A Life Lived with Grace, with music by Vincent Atueyi Chinemelu of Nigeria and words by Lucy Kiely of Australia was the winning entry in a competition organised by Fakenham woman Alison Cox, founder of The Commonwealth Resounds.
Bruno said: “I was watching Eurovision once with Moira and said to her, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a song written for the Jubilee, so as the beacons are being lit a song can be sung by choirs, community choirs, church choirs...?’
“I contacted the Commonwealth Secretariat and got the Secretary involved. She agreed to be the chair of the judges. I was one of the judges and the Queen’s master of music was a judge.
“The whole thing was co-ordinated by Alison Cox of Commonwealth Resounds. She’s an amazing woman.”
Norfolk choirs taking part include the Gressenhall Singers, the African Choir of Norfolk, the Norwich Phoenix Male Voice Choir, Norwich community choir, BroadBeat Choir, The Old Buckenham Singers, Kenninghall Mums' Choir and Sheringham and Cromer Choral Society.
Bruno’s beacons include:
A chain of 90 coastal beacons for the English Tourist Board in 1981.
A thousand beacons across the 12 countries of the European Community to mark the launch of the Single European Market in 1992.
Chains of beacons for the 40th and 50th anniversaries celebrations of VE Day in 1995 and 2005.
On December 31 1999 Bruno handed the Queen a ceremonial torch to light the National Beacon on the River Thames, the first of more than 1,300 beacons around the country marking the start Britain’s year-long millennium celebrations.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, which included more than 4,200 beacons. Thousands lined the streets and millions watched on television as Bruno handed the Queen the Jubilee Crystal Diamond to light the National Beacon on The Mall.
The bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2016. Bruno handed the torch for the Queen to light the Portsmouth beacon and her children the Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex also lit beacons.