Richard Herring: How I sort of broke into Buckingham Palace
Friday 13 Sep 2013 6:00 am
I moved to London in 1989, dreaming of becoming a writer. Within three months, I was working on my first book.
Well, I was helping to compile the west London phone book but it still counts.
At the time, I was sharing a house with the comedian Stewart Lee and the phone bill was in his name. My proudest achievement was successfully changing his phone book entry to Stewart Wee.
If only I had been more daring I could have made it Poofart Wee but I was young and cautious and scared of dismissal.
Once, someone rang our house trying to sell orthopaedic mattresses and asked for Mr Wee.
Stewart listened patiently to their pitch, before claiming that he was incontinent and so had to have mattresses specially made for him. That cold-caller no doubt dined out on the story of the time he rang up the bedwetting Mr Wee.
Within six months I was writing for another book – and one that would be for sale in actual bookshops: The Royal Encyclopaedia: Authorised Book Of The Royal Family.
For research purposes I was granted access to the library in Buckingham Palace. Security at royal palaces is obviously very tight and can usually only be broken by people dressed up as Osama bin Laden or blokes who fancy a late-night chat with the Queen.
Even Prince Andrew can’t walk around the garden without risking being shot. I needed a special pass.
Bizarrely, to get accreditation to go into Buckingham Palace, I had to go into Buckingham Palace.
On the day I would go through those famous gates, there was a meeting of world leaders (including the first and moderately less stupid President Bush) at the palace. I was ostentatiously using a large metal camera case as a briefcase.
Exactly the kind of thing in which a James Bond villain would hide a nuclear bomb. No one asked to look inside it.
The woman at reception said I needed to go to the pass office, which was at a different entrance on the other side of the building.
What she didn’t explain was that I was meant to go back through the gates first. So I skirted the front of the palace, passing a guard holding a big gun with a bayonet on the top. I gave him a nervous smile.
He kept looking forwards and didn’t ask me what I was doing or try to stab me with his pointy gun. I went through an archway into a courtyard.
I was inside Buckingham Palace. I could have gone anywhere I wanted with my ‘bomb’ and assassinated all of the major world leaders.
If only my case had contained explosive materials rather than a couple of pens and an A4 pad.
I wish I’d taken the opportunity to look around and meet my favourite royals. But I was a bit worried about being killed and so retraced my steps and knocked on the guardroom window and asked where I was meant to be.
I was pointed in the right direction by the guardsmen, who laughed at my stupidity (though you might argue I should have been laughing at them for failing to prevent a presidential massacre).
My ‘break-in’ did not make it on to the news, as did the events of last week, making me possibly the only man to break in and out of Buckingham Palace undetected.
Unfortunately for publishers Macmillan, the encyclopaedia came out in 1991, just as the Royal Family began self-destructing, making it immediately about as useful as (and one wee joke less funny than) the 1990 west London phone book.
Richard Herring embarks on a new British tour with his fresh show We’re All Going To Die! on October 8.