MY MO­MENT: LUCY WORS­LEY

TV his­to­rian LUCY WORS­LEY’s first job as a tour guide at a ‘slightly bonkers’ coun­try house gave her a taste for act­ing out our past – and she’s never looked back

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Af­ter I grad­u­ated from Oxford, I landed my first job at a small, pri­vately run and slightly bonkers his­toric house in Ox­ford­shire. I phoned up all the his­toric houses in the phone book and, rather re­mark­ably, Mil­ton Manor said, ‘Come for an in­ter­view; maybe we can em­ploy you as a tour guide.’ When I ar­rived I was sur­prised to see a boat painted with a huge swastika cap­sized in the lake. It turned out they had just done one of their fa­mous re-en­act­ments – a Sec­ond World War sce­nario.

In due course I did my own re-en­act­ments, in­clud­ing the time I played Queen El­iz­a­beth II [right, aged 21] at her 1953 corona­tion. We then re-cre­ated a rit­ual that used to hap­pen at corona­tion feasts: a masked man, all in black, was my ‘queen’s’ chal­lenger. He comes into the room where the ban­quet is be­ing held and chal­lenges all com­ers to fight against the right of the queen to be the queen. In our re-en­act­ment, an­other knight turned up and said, ‘I’ll fight you’, but nat­u­rally my cham­pion won.

I have al­ways en­joyed dress­ing up and act­ing out a part [Lucy has played roles from Tu­dor maid­ser­vants to suf­fragettes in her BBC pro­grammes]. If you do it right, you can also teach peo­ple some­thing.

Uni­ver­sity life pre­pared me for this kind of pageantry. I overindulged in ev­ery as­pect – I was so ex­cited to be there, and there was so much I wanted to learn. I stud­ied hard but took part in ev­ery­thing such as the New Col­lege stu­dent union’s Rag [Raise and Give] pa­rade. I or­gan­ised an Antony and Cleopatra-themed float, in­clud­ing home­made sphinxes and Tu­tankhamun masks. My whole fam­ily came to my grad­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing my grandma who al­ways gave me con­fi­dence about my speech im­ped­i­ment – I can’t say ‘th’ or ‘r’ prop­erly. She would say to me, ‘I think you have a nice voice.’

I re­mem­ber be­ing a lit­tle fright­ened be­cause I didn’t know if I could make a suc­cess out of this funny lit­tle by­way of his­tory. Be­ing a tour guide was my way of get­ting my foot in the door. When you give a guided tour, if you can see peo­ple are look­ing bored, it’s bril­liant feed­back. In some ways I’m still a tour guide be­cause what I do on tele­vi­sion is take peo­ple around his­toric houses. I like the chal­lenge of in­spir­ing those who don’t yet know they’re go­ing to re­ally like his­tory.

I’VE AL­WAYS EN­JOYED DRESS­ING UP…DO IT RIGHT AND YOU CAN TEACH PEO­PLE SOME­THING”

Lucy is chief cu­ra­tor at His­toric Royal Palaces. Her lat­est book, Queen Vic­to­ria: Daugh­ter, Wife, Mother, Widow, is pub­lished by Hod­der & Stoughton, £25*

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