Emdad Rahman: The Tower of London has just welcomed the latest Yeoman Warder or 'Beefeater.'
Yeoman Warder Lawrence Watts recently started at the Tower in this iconic role. He becomes the newest Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, taking up the unique role after 23 years of distinguished service in the Army and is also the first black Beefeater in history.
He's had a busy morning and I enquire about how many selfies he's had to pose for. "Today it's early in the morning so I would say not more than a hundred," he laughs.
Speaking about his exciting new role at the Tower of London Watts said: "It's fantastic to be honest. For myself it's a bit of a dream come true and at the moment it's still sinking in and I'm coming to terms with the opportunity I've been given.
"I completed 23 years service with the army. I finished in 2014 with the forces and then started working within the security industry within Canary Wharf before taking up this post here. Yeoman
Warder Watts, 41, was born in Lewisham in Southeast London and grew up in Basingstoke. Before joining the Tower of London, he served with the Royal Corp of Signals in Northern Ireland, Germany, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the army he worked in security before joining the Tower of London.
Outside of work Yeoman Warder Watts enjoys formation sky diving, boxing and mixed martial arts and is a keen photographer. He is aware of his position as a role model. "I think it will mean quite a lot to young people in the local area, especially east London and this place. There are very few positive role models out there. The media and press quite often concentrate on people who I would not necessarily regard to be positive role models. It's fantastic for me to stand here and show people that regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from or what your start might be, the opportunities are there if you push hard for them."
Over the next few months Yeoman Warder Watts will learn word-for-word the ‘Story’ - the script of the famous Yeoman Warder Tour - before being allowed to lead a tour himself. He will also become familiar with each of the 21 separate duties that the Yeoman Warders conduct each day, such as answering historical questions, helping visitors and having their photograph taken. He will take part in various traditional ceremonies such as the Ceremony of the Keys, which has been conducted each night without fail for at least 700 years.
It's a tough role but Yeoman Warder Watts is up for the challenge. "My role is to help members of the public, educating them about the Tower of London, about the history of the United Kingdom all the way back to 1066 and William the Conqueror and really just helping them enjoy their day at the Tower. I'm a role model for the City of London and I'm enjoying myself."
Yeoman Warder Watts joins 36 Yeoman Warders who live at the Tower of London with their families. The Yeoman Warders are descended from the ancient band of warders who guarded the gates and royal prisoners, early in the Tower’s history. Modern Yeoman Warders are still Extraordinary Members of the Queen’s Bodyguard. They are all former warrant officers from Her Majesty’s Forces with an honourable service record of at least 22 years. Today they combine their traditional ceremonial role with a love of history to make the past come to life for visitors. It's a tough job and one that requires constant attention in the spotlight.
Can Yeoman Warder Watts remain productive under such a powerful glare? He smiles, "There is a toast that Yeoman Warders make during our oath and when we are sworn in: 'May you never die a Yeoman Warder,' which essentially means we keep this role as long as we can physically do this job and then we take ourselves away and move on before we finish."
This is a dream job for Yeoman Warder Watts and he has sound advice for those wishing to follow his lead. "The advice to everybody is this. Everybody is aware what's right and what's wrong. Stay focussed on what you want to achieve. There's lots of people, groups, organisations out there that can help young people no matter how bad their situation might be. So get out there, ask for the help, take the advice, keep focussed and work hard. “I’ve always been fascinated with history, in particular military history. In my first week at the Tower of London I’d already learnt a thousand things I didn’t know before! Now I’ve got the mammoth task of learning over 900 years of the history of the Tower. Very few people have a chance to be a part of living history so becoming a Yeoman Warder really is a dream job.”