Iconic Tower of London poppies artists honoured by Queen

Volunteers among ceramic poppies from the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Towe

Volunteers among ceramic poppies from the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Millions flocked to see the spectacular sea of poppies which engulfed the Tower of London in scarlet waves last year to commemorate the First World War centenary – now the creators of the art piece have been awarded in the New Year’s honours.

Tom Piper with Poppies

Tom Piper with Poppies - Credit: Archant

Ceramicist Paul Cummins and theatre designer Tom Piper have both been given MBEs in recognition of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which involved more than 20,000 volunteers who gradually filled the moat at the Tower with 888,246 ceramic poppies – one to represent each British and Colonial military death during the war.

Outgoing head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake hailed the pair, who designed and constructed the work, while announcing the list of 1,164 people who have been recognised by the Queen.

“Their contribution to the commemoration of these fallen soldiers has captured Britain’s imagination and made the First World War centenary unforgettable,” he said.

Hackney resident, Tom Piper, 50, said: “It was slightly strange as it got leaked before we knew. There was a headline in one of the Sunday papers, but then the Cabinet office rang me and Paul and said ‘we are going to award you something.’”

The iconic installation drew in an estimated five million visitors between July and November and in her Christmas message the Queen spoke of her own visit, saying: “The only possible reaction to walking among them was silence.”

Mr Piper, who lives by Lordship Park, said living among the diversity of Hackney related to the democracy of the poppy project.

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He said though Mr Cummins came up with the idea of the poppy representing the life of a soldier, and his own idea of ‘The Wave’ came to him early on, it was the collaborative nature of the piece and the metaphors of blood and the soldiers’ lives that made it so poignant.

He said: “The reason it worked so well was the individual story of the poppies and also the length of time they took to plant. You thought ‘my god it is a lot of people’ – certainly when I was planting them you would see another one here, another one there, then I realised – that is someone’s life.

“We felt on many occasions it could have failed but the hard work of people pulled it off at the last minute.”

He added: “The main thing for me was that the whole project was such a collaboration.

“I think bringing a theatre person into it really helped facilitate that because in theatre you can’t work out exactly who did what. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual contribution and for me that’s what made it this interesting artwork.

“It also all built up from grass roots level. Public engagement and contribution is something you don’t normally get to experience and to own a little bit of it, with people buying poppies as well, the democracy has been brilliant.”