Ge­of­frey’s owner talks felx­i­bil­ity at the Tower

Laura Drake shares her pas­sion for the Tower Of Lon­don and high­lights the ben­e­fits of us­ing the site as an events venue with the real wow fac­tor for every­one who at­tends

The Wharf - - Canary Wharf - Jon Massey Call 020 3166 6226, email toweroflon­don­events@hrp.org.uk or go to hrp.org.uk for more de­tails

Iwas 15 years old when I came to the Tower of Lon­don on an ap­pren­tice­ship, says Laura Drake. Dur­ing the in­ter­ven­ing 17 years, she’s risen to be­come com­mer­cial events man­ager at His­toric Royal Palaces (HRP), run­ning the team re­spon­si­ble for the char­ity’s third big­gest in­come stream.

“I al­ways knew I wanted to work in the City like my older sis­ter,” said the 32-year-old. “The busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion col­lege course I found gave me four days a week work­ing in an of­fice and one at the Tower, so I did three years of that.

“I thought it was good that af­ter my ap­pren­tice­ship, they wanted to keep me on – I thought I’d stay for 12 months and here I still am.”

Hav­ing ini­tially worked with the Royal Ar­mouries, which looks af­ter all of the arte­facts con­tained in the White Tower, Laura made the move to HRP – an in­de­pen­dent char­ity that sup­ports the Tower as well as Hamp­ton Court Palace, the Ban­quet­ing House, Kens­ing­ton Palace, Kew Palace and Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle in North­ern Ire­land – as it be­gan to grow its events busi­ness.

She said: “Back then, you couldn’t even have a din­ner in the White Tower.

“I was ap­proached by the then events man­ager, who said the sec­tor was grow­ing and we were ac­tu­ally be­com­ing quite pop­u­lar and it was a great way to make money for the char­ity to keep the build­ing go­ing. She asked me to join her team so I started off as a co-or­di­na­tor and then, grad­u­ally through­out my time, I’ve risen to head up the team.”

Hav­ing worked al­most ev­ery role in the de­liv­ery of events at the Tower, the Bex­ley res­i­dent, of­ten with un­of­fi­cial team mem­ber Ge­of­frey the English bull­dog, is far from tired of the busi­ness.

“I gen­uinely love it,” she said. “I love the pas­sion my team has and work­ing with re­ally good col­leagues. The vari­a­tion of events that we get here is won­der­ful.

“Whether it’s a cor­po­rate busi­ness, a pri­vate client for a din­ner or a very wealthy in­di­vid­ual just for four peo­ple for din­ner in the White Tower, the thing I re­ally love is the re­ac­tion from peo­ple.

“They ab­so­lutely love it. Who­ever it is, the re­ac­tion is the same, ‘I can’t be­lieve I’m in the Tower of Lon­don hav­ing a din­ner. I can’t be­lieve a Beefeater has met my group and is telling me sto­ries’.

“The clients come to life when that hap­pens and I think that’s why I have stayed here so long. It con­tin­ues to im­press peo­ple. It’s cre­at­ing mem­o­ries for them and that’s some­thing I just love.

“At the end of the night, the thanks and the grat­i­tude are the same and that just makes you love your job.”

With five spa­ces at the Tower avail­able to hire and op­tions such as pri­vate views of the Crown Jew­els, Laura’s job is to get the word out to high­light its ver­sa­til­ity.

She said: “A lot of peo­ple think it’s a thou­sand-year-old build­ing, surely you can just have some ta­bles and chairs? But we have had ice sculp­tures all around, light pro­jec­tions and a tree con­structed in­side the White Tower

“I think de­vel­op­ments in tech­nol­ogy, in com­bi­na­tion with clients’ vi­sion, re­ally de­liver the im­pact. We’ve cov­ered the floor in the White Tower with real grass, for ex­am­ple, all within con­ser­va­tion rules and that re­ally gave that event the wow fac­tor. We have the abil­ity to trans­form these his­toric spa­ces into mod­ern ones. Our con­ser­va­tion teams work with us so well on that.”

Laura said an­other ben­e­fit of hold­ing an event at the Tower was that clients were able to ex­pe­ri­ence HRP’s work first-hand.

“We are a char­ity so clients can see that the money you are pay­ing for the event is go­ing to keep one of Eng­land’s most beau­ti­ful build­ings stand­ing for an­other thou­sand years,” she said.

“We do 200 con­fer­ences and 300 events a year. Peo­ple don’t al­ways think of us for hav­ing some­thing in­side these walls dur­ing the day, but what a great thing for peo­ple to do if you have of­fices in Manch­ester or over­seas, for ex­am­ple.

“We have seven ho­tels on our doorstep and it is easy to bring peo­ple here via the Tube, DLR or the Thames Clip­pers.

“Why not have a Beefeater talk to your guests at lunchtime or tell your guests to have a look in their free time at the ar­mour in the White Tower and then, if your bud­get al­lows, stay on af­ter, then we can carry on into the evening? There is so much scope.

“I think the key word is unique. The lo­ca­tion and what we have here is just fan­tas­tic.”

It’s a pop­u­lar blend with a di­verse mix of clients, in­clud­ing banks, in­sur­ance firms and reg­u­lar busi­ness from the NFL.

Laura said: “They have sup­ported us for the last seven years. I get such en­joy­ment and ex­cite­ment from know­ing they can­not wait to get back ev­ery year. Some­times it’s for the play­ers and the cheer­lead­ers.

“We even had the Bal­ti­more Ravens here and they brought their mas­cot for pictures on the south lawn with one of the Tower’s ravens.”

The sup­port of those or­gan­i­sa­tions helps HRP in its key busi­ness of keep­ing the Tower open to day visi­tors, said Laura, the daugh­ter of a for­mer docker who worked on the Isle of Dogs dur­ing the 1970s. Mak­ing sure that oper­a­tion is un­in­ter­rupted and the palace’s 168 res­i­dents are not in­con­ve­nienced is an­other vi­tal part of Laura’s job.

She said: “We have to be cre­ative. Events have to end at 10.30pm and we get a lot of en­quiries to go on later, but that isn’t achiev­able.

“It’s a very busy palace so the big­gest chal­lenge is to make sure we are de­liv­er­ing while not step­ping on other peo­ple’s toes.

“Re­cently we had an event for 1,700 peo­ple here in the Tower. It was quite a chal­lenge and it was the big­gest thing that I have done in 17 years but we face those chal­lenges and we over­come them.

“The river is a fan­tas­tic way to carry on the night af­ter we have closed, for ex­am­ple, or within five min­utes you can be in a sky bar look­ing over the Tower at one of our neigh­bour­ing ho­tels.

“We want to in­vite as many peo­ple to come and ex­pe­ri­ence what we have to of­fer as pos­si­ble.”

‘‘ We have the abil­ity to trans­form these his­toric spa­ces. Our con­ser­va­tion teams work so well with us on that Laura Drake, Tower Of Lon­don

Laura said hold­ing an event at the Tower was some­thing that stayed with peo­ple – a mem­ory triggered ev­ery time they walked past.

“My favourite mem­ory is when Prince Charles came to open the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment when I was work­ing for the Royal Ar­mouries,” she said.

“I helped him dress a child in replica ar­mour – that was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to meet a mem­ber of the royal fam­ily.

“My other high­lights have been meet­ing celebri­ties – es­pe­cially Tom Hardy and Danny DeVito, who were ab­so­lutely won­der­ful and def­i­nitely top of the tree.

And with so much to look back on, will she be mov­ing on?

“I can’t see my­self leav­ing,” she said. “We are a fam­ily here and every­one is here to sup­port each other. I think that’s quite rare.”

Prices start at £850 for the board­room in the New Ar­mouries build­ing be­tween 7.30am and 5pm.

The Tower of Lon­don can be dressed for any oc­ca­sion

Ge­of­frey is also a pop­u­lar mem­ber of the Tower team

MATT GRAYSON

Laura Drake started work at the Tower as an ap­pren­tice 17 years ago and has risen to be­come its com­mer­cial events man­ager

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