24 Hours with… Debbie McCamphill

We spend the day with the events and household manager at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland.

Hillsborough CastleThe time at which my working day starts really depends on the event we have going on, but it could be as early as 6am for a big outdoor function, where I’m on site carrying out checks and tweaking set-up arrangements. It’s a wonderful time to be out in the gardens, as the wildlife at that time is amazing and the site is quiet, allowing you to gather your thoughts for the busy day ahead. You can definitely appreciate what a wonderful place it is to work – there are so many vibrant colours from the trees, plants and reflections in the lake.

Some days I could be in the process of working on four to five events at various stages of planning, so I have to be super organised in prioritising what needs to be done. I am a big believer in to-do lists and a good day is when I get through at least some of the points I’ve noted down!

I love the variety in my role. I could be working on the logistics of a Royal Garden Party one minute, then immersed in the set up for a large corporate marquee event for 350 guests on the south terrace, arranging a small intimate dinner, a large wedding reception or even a Royal Gun Salute. We are quite a small events team so we rely on the other teams at Hillsborough Castle such as the gardening, operations, public engagement and security teams, who all have a role to play from making the site look stunning, to welcoming guests upon arrival, being on hand throughout the event to make sure all runs smoothly and then clearing up the site for members of the public coming back into the property the next morning.

Hillsborough Castle gardensReactive duties crop up throughout the day, for example supporting suppliers during set ups, providing direction on where marquees should be placed and making sure all the client requests are met.

By mid-morning the events team and I will gather to discuss an event that may be happening that evening and go through final checks so that staff working the event are fully briefed. No two events are ever the same at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, which makes the job very interesting and diverse. We all are in the jobs we do as we like owning the issues, getting the job done with panache and pleasing the clients and guests, which are also some of the core principles of Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages the venue.

Hillsborough Castle marqueeEarlier this month we partnered with River Street Events and Tourism Northern Ireland to host our first ever Food Festival. It was the first time we had hosted an event like this since we opened the new visitor centre and re-presented castle earlier in the spring. All the different teams had a role to play, including organising the logistics, liaising with the suppliers for set up, and working out how to make our visitors’ days as enjoyable as possible. It was a great success and hopefully the start of other large scale events held here.

There are so many checks to be done before an event and this work should not be underestimated. It takes up a significant amount of time but it’s all worthwhile as we want to ensure visitors have a great day and return in the future, especially if they are here for an evening event. Checks can be as simple as cleaning, briefing the staff about what’s happening or could take the form of detailed paperwork that needs to be compiled and signed off before a big event commences. Our gardens team is always particularly busy before an outdoor event, cutting grass, trimming edges and weeding so the site looks stunning.

My team and I are always on call in case we are needed. Our job is to fix problems before they arise or try and be one step ahead of everyone else. On the run up to an event we work closely with suppliers and clients to ensure everything runs smoothly. The events team wear many hats on the day of an event, and we definitely clock up the miles walking around checking things like traffic management, signage, catering liaison and dealing with wet weather issues that may arise from time to time.

On the day of an event, we try to take a moment for a break and some food when we can, but it’s the guests and the client that come first!

I work with a myriad of external partners and that can be challenging sometimes in terms of managing expectations as we do need to respect the conservation requirements that come with running a historical site like this. However, it is extremely enjoyable to work through an idea phase, see the concept evolve and then the event unfolding on the day.

Hillsborough Castle crowdAt the end of an event we are all usually on a high, proud of what we have achieved. Hearing guests say how much they enjoyed themselves is worth all the hard work put in beforehand. The build-up can be quite slow but the events themselves go in a flash. You get a real buzz out of seeing something through to the end and hearing how pleased everyone is with what you have delivered. How could I not love what I do?!



As the official residence of the Royal Family in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle has formed the backdrop to momentous political talks and played host to some of modern history’s most recognisable figures, from Eleanor Roosevelt to the Dalai Lama.

The Georgian mansion has a variety of atmospheric spaces and is used for intimate corporate dinners, lavish wedding receptions, board meetings, workshops and large-scale conferences and award shows.

Hillsborough Castle has been managed by Historic Royal Palaces since 2014 – an independent charity that also looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. Its aim is to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society in some of the greatest palaces ever built. www.hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle

Hillsborough Castle dining table

About Open Air Business 1378 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here