Discover Britain magazine, August/September issue 2012
Historic Royal Palaces Chief Curator Lucy Worsley on her love for heritage
My mum and I used to visit historic properties when I was a child, but it was when I was about 18 and starting to think about a career that I realised what I wanted to do. the property responsible for that realisation was Mompesson House, a lovely National Trust house in Salisbury. I looked around and saw people there whose job it was to keep the place going, and I knew that was for me.
I've worked for the independent charity Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) since 2003. Our five properties include the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. I can't say which one is my favourite - that changes according to the projects that we work on. Latterly our focus has been on Kensington Palace, which reopened earlier this year following major refurbishment; in 2009 our focus was Hampton Court Palace in conjunction with Henry VIII's 500th anniversary, and in 2006 it was Kew Palace when there was interest in the 'madness' of George III.
People unable to afford holidays abroad seem to be having day trips to London, but research shows that visitors have to spend more than 10 days here before they look beyond the centre's attractions. Hampton Court is more than worth the 30-minute train journey [from central London]. Until 30 September there's a fantastic exhibition, The Wild, The Beautiful And The Damned, containing portraits of all the mistresses of Charles II. It's a real eye-opener.
I am constantly amazed by the number of visitors who love history as much as I do. On the flip side I'm frustrated that not enough people realise what our work at HRP involves, or the fact that it doesn't get public funding. British visitors wonder why they have to pay admission to the properties, thinking their taxes pay for the upkeep when that's not the case. They don't realise that by handing over their money they are helping the continual process of conservation and education.
My personal interest is in 17th-century history but HRP's sites and collections stretch from Norman times right up until the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, so we have to be able to skip merrily between the centuries. If I could go back in time it would have to be to after the invention of anaesthetics!
People are surprised to hear that I live in a boring modern flat but I feel I have the best of both worlds. My free time is taken up with research, both for my books and filming, which takes me all over the country. My all-time favourite place to visit is the forgotten little historic house where I began my career as a tour guide: Milton Manor, near Abingdon, in Oxfordshire. it's eccentric Englishness at its best.
© 2013 Lucy Worsley