Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved listening to great stories told by an enthralling storyteller. On our recent trip to London, I came across one such storyteller. I’ll share this experience with a story of my own.
The rare London sun beamed brightly on our faces as we entered the gates of the Tower of London. We had chosen the Tower as our first stop on a day full of sightseeing that included other attractions like posing in front of the timeless London Bridge, shopping at Borough Market, and touring the rebuilt Globe Theatre.
Kat and I glanced to our left and saw a herd of humans gathering on the massive green lawn just inside the entrance. Obviously something of note was about to happen, so we joined the group.
Little did we know that we would soon be entertained by a “Beefeater.” Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In theory, they are responsible for guarding any prisoners in the Tower and the British crown jewels. In practice, they act as tour guides, if not a tourist attraction themselves.
Our Beefeater was a middle-aged man of average height with rosy cheeks. His potbelly poked through a dark blue uniform that hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages. He spoke fast with a thick London accent, but he projected his voice well. He introduced himself, and began the tour.
As a tour guide / storyteller / comedian / entertainer, engaging the audience requires you to break down barriers. In this case, the Beefeater used our nationalities as an icebreaker. He informally polled the audience, “Who ‘ere is from Canada?” A few hands rose. Then he asked, “Who 'ere is from America?” A few more hands rose including Kat’s and mine. Finally, he asked “How about France?”
When no one raised their hand, he took the opportunity to make his first joke, “No French? Good.” Laughter shattered the ice of the crowd. He asked the current and former servants of the British empire to say “Huzzah” when the cue was given. Americans were encouraged to say “Yeehaw!” because he knew that we had been anxious to do so since we got off the plane. As he kept soliciting responses from us, we got more comfortable and became more engaged.
After the icebreaking exercises, he began the educational part of the tour. He informed us that the lush lawn that we were standing on was previously a moat full of sewage from the River Thames. We were disgusted. He told us that the Tower of London is notorious for being a place of torture and murder. He regaled us with gruesome tales of long imprisonments, grim power struggles, and gory executions. It was reminiscent of Game of Thrones - everyone dies horrendously.
The grimacing from the dark horror stories was broken up with laughter as the Beefeater sucked us in with tale after tale and punchline after punchline. It got to the point that he and his storytelling became the main highlight of the tour. So much so, there was a collective grown when he informed us that the tour was coming to an end.
In closing, the Beefeater had to share one final tale - the story of his grandson, Little Tommy.
Beefeater: My first grandson arrived a few weeks ago.
Beefeater: Yeah, he arrived on the train from Leicester a few weeks ago. He is 11.
Beefeater: I had come home after a day of work, and my grandson came up to me.
Little Tommy: Grandpa, did you give any tours today?
Beefeater: Why yes, I did.
Little Tommy: Did you tell them how they chopped off the head of Mary so and so?
Beefeater: Of course, I did
Little Tommy: Grandpa, did they give you a hearty round of applause…so your supervisor knows that you did an excellent job?“
The Beefeater slyly points to his supervisor who is intently watching us. We all look at the supervisor and smile.
At this point, everyone in the crowd is eagerly anticipating the moment when they can give our Beefeater a round of applause. He ends with a thank you, and begins to exist stage left. We all start clapping exuberantly. It’s not because we think the tour was extensive or super-educational, but because we were thoroughly entertained.
Kat and I continued our self-guided tour of the Tower, a bit disappointed that our time with the Beefeater was over. We stood in the long queue in order to see the Crown Jewels. They are stunning. I joked with Katerina that I’d buy her some one day. She looked at me incredulously. Then she laughed. It’s a good sign that I can still make her laugh.
After fully exploring the Tower, we headed to the main exit. As we walked toward the exit, I glanced over to the big green moat, err, lawn and saw the same Beefeater in front of a new herd of visitors. No doubt that they would be hearing the same jokes and stories that I heard just a couple hours earlier. I couldn’t help smiling. Part of me wanted to join them just so I could experience it all over again. That’s the true power of storytelling.