The World Of Dr Lucy Worsley, curator and broadcaster
Telegraph Magazine, 15 October 2011
by Angela Wintle
Dr Lucy Worsley, 37, is the chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House in Whitehall and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. She is best known for her BBC Four series If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home, and Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency, marking the 200th anniversary of the Regency decade. She lives in London with her partner, the architect Mark Hines. Her latest book, If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, is published by Faber.
Routine I rise at around 6.45am. Breakfast is usually a boiled egg with buttered toast. Mark often prepares it, though the price I pay is having to read whatever he thinks suitable while I’m eating it. Recently, the hot subject was the different teams in the Rugby World Cup. Then it’s a dash to Waterloo to catch the train to my main office at Hampton Court Palace in Richmond. Whenever I cross the bridge, I feel like I’m leaving the real world behind and entering Never Never Land.
Office My office is situated up 51 spiral steps off Chapel Court, an area built for Edward VI. Every day is different. Yesterday, I climbed some scaffolding at the palace to see the conservation work being carried out on some 16th-century terracotta heads of Roman emperors that are set into the walls. They look as though they have syphilis because their noses have fallen off, but we plan to clean them and consolidate them.
Childhood I was born in Reading, but when I was a week old I went to live in Canada. Dad was a geologist – an expert in glaciers and permafrost – so I had a peripatetic childhood travelling between such cold places as Canada, Iceland and Norway. He wanted me to be a scientist and I was all set to study science A-Levels, but after the first term I realised it would be much more enjoyable to study history and English, which didn’t feel like work. He was horrified. He said I’d never earn a living with a history degree.
Running People are often surprised to discover that I’m a very good runner because they think I look like a wimpy art historian. In my teens I represented my county at cross-country and was something like the 350th fastest girl in England. I’m built for running because I have unusually large nostrils, which allow me to breathe very effectively. I run up and down the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge, for about eight miles most Sunday mornings. It gives me a huge endorphin rush. If I don’t feel like running, these purple trainers (pictured) with yellow flashes inspire me.
Cocktail glasses I like cocktails – my favourite is a manhattan – so people tend to give me martini glasses (pictured) as presents. I have some particularly nice vintage ones from the 1950s that Mark gave me and they remind me of the Art Deco period. High on my list of desirable experiences is going to a cocktail party where a piano is playing and someone is singing The Way You Look Tonight. When I was younger, I adored going to Cluedo parties with friends and we’d dress up in 1920s costumes. I still have a cigarette holder from those times. When friends heard about my love of cocktails they started showering me with glasses, but I’ve had to ask them to stop – there’s no more room in the cupboard.
Coat I bought a coat for my first BBC television series, If Walls Could Talk, because I was asked to wear something brightly coloured. It appeared in virtually every scene because we filmed mainly in winter. Unfortunately, people kept emailing in, asking, ‘Why do you never change your clothes?’ But it’s distracting if you keep varying them and I’d much rather viewers concentrated on the subject in hand. You can’t win. People have commented a lot on my appearance, likening me to a mischievous flapper or an EH Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin’s bohemian godmother. It’s not necessarily how I think of myself and people do like to pigeonhole. But then, that’s the job of the art historian – to look at people’s dress and possessions throughout history to see how they would have been interpreted at the time – so I can hardly complain.
Favourite toy I’ve had Blue Rabbit (pictured) since childhood. She sits on a shelf in my bedroom and she has a suitcase and a complete set of little clothes made by my mum, who is very good at sewing because she grew up in a draper’s shop in Birmingham. Blue Rabbit used to be a boy and once belonged to a cousin of mine. But apparently when I was four, I was at my cousin’s house when I suddenly announced that I was going to have him, and I took him home and gave him a sex change. She was definitely my favourite toy as a child and I can remember lying in bed at night, willing her to come alive so we could have more fun together.
Grandmother’s chair My paternal grandmother kept a Lloyd Loom chair in her bedroom in Grimsby. It’s eau de nil – a very 1930s colour – and I think she must have bought it when she married in 1936. I remember sitting in it and playing with the stuff on her dressing-table. My grandmother had a completely different experience of life to me and lived in the same semi-detached house all her married life, looking after my grandfather. I think she was quite baffled by me, but she always said I had a very clear speaking voice and ought to be on radio or television. Only a grandmother would say that because I have a speech impediment, which a lot of people point out. But she would have been pleased that her prediction finally came true.
© 2013 Lucy Worsley