December 13 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Londoner of the Day goes to the chief Beefeater at the Tower of London - as he bows out of the role after spending more than 20 years with ravens helping ensure the iconic landmark does not collapse into the River Thames nor the Crown Jewels vanish.
The Tower of London’s chief yeoman warder has called for Britons to value their heritage more as he bowed out as the second-longest-serving head beefeater.
John Keohane, 62, who is retiring after more than 20 years at the Tower, said that most Londoners lacked basic knowledge of the royal palace where he has been chief yeoman since 2004.
He complained: “The majority of Londoners haven’t visited the Tower. But when they do, it’s my role to help them understand its traditions and its heritage.”
With the Tower attracting 2.4million visitors a year, Mr Keohane is one of Britain’s most photographed men. He said: “My grandchildren love looking on Facebook for pictures of me. They find hundreds.”
John Keohane, aged 62, who joined in 1991, is the longest serving Chief Yeoman Warder since 1947 and the second longest serving in history.
The Chief Yeoman Warder is the most senior member of the Queen’s Bodyguard based at the Tower commonly called ‘Beefeaters’.
Mr Keohane, who lives lives inside the Tower’s ancient walls with his wife Ruth - in the tradition of Beefeaters, says he feels “apprehensive” about retiring after more than 20 years.
He said: “It’s my life. We are 47 families living here including 37 Beefeaters with their families.
Mr Keohane, who last year was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order in the Queen’s New Year Honours, supervises all the Beefeater teams, ensuring they are trained and dressed to the highest standards.
He also oversees the Ceremony of the Keys, the Tower’s nightly closing down ceremony.
All state occasions come under him and he has met heads of state from the Obamas to the Putins. In 1992 he showed Prince William and Prince Harry around when their late mother, Princess Diana, brought them to learn about the building’s 900 year history.
“She was every bit a mother, very talkative and wanted the best for her sons. You forgot who you were talking to because she put you at ease.”
He said it had been a “once in a life time opportunity” to meet so many famous people. “I leave with many fond memories,” he added.
Mr Keohane joined as a ‘Baby Beef’, as new recruits are nicknamed, after seeing an advert for the job by chance and realising he met the minimum criteria of having served 22 years with the armed forces. He enlisted as a boy soldier in 1964 and served around the globe.
For his retirement Mr Keohane has bought a house in Paignton. As a volunteer director of South Devon Railways it will take him close to a fond hobby.
Once a year he becomes Sir Topham Hat, the Fat Controller for Thomas the Tank Engine themed railway trips. He will also continue to drive a Routemaster Bus for weddings and other occasions.
Yeoman Gaoler Alan Kingshott, the Chief’s deputy, will be promoted to Chief Yeoman Warder. He joined in 1998 after 25 years with the Royal Hussars.