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