Meet Historic Royal Palaces Curator Tracy Borman

If you follow us on Twitter, then you will know there is a special place in our hearts for Historic Royal Palaces; the independent charity that looks after some of London’s most exceptional heritage sites, such as the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. 

A couple of weeks ago, the HRP Press Team hosted a very special Q&A on Twitter with new Interim Chief Curator, Dr Tracy Borman. Of course, we asked a series of extremely important questions, but we wanted to know more about the woman behind the Palace?

For starters, does she even like Palaces? And does she snoop around when the lights go off?

What are her top tips for forging a career in the cultural sector?

And WHY does she have a fascination with witches?!

Luckily for us, Tracy very kindly agreed to answer these pressing questions, and here’s what she had to say…

hrp 5Source: HRP Facebook

logo for facebook copyAs we have a penchant for all things morbid and scandalous your latest release, Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction, is right up our alley.  We think it’s a fascinating topic, but what made you want to tell this story?  

Tracy Borman: Two reasons: firstly, I was inspired by reading the wonderful Hilda Lewis’s fictional account of the story, The Witch and the Priest.  She was a fabulous historical novelist and her research is impeccable.  Secondly, it’s a story that is local to my home town, Lincoln, so it was pretty close to my heart.

tb1Source: TracyBorman

logo for facebook copyLooking back on your past book releases (Elizabeth I, Matilda, Henrietta Howard) you obviously have a passion to tell the story of women throughout history. Is this because they typically haven’t been given a voice? 

TB: You know, that has been quite incidental!  I guess I have been drawn to particular subjects, but not necessarily because they are women – more because they are little known (although, depressingly, those two facts often go side by side in history) and because their stories are so fascinating.  I don’t like being labelled a ‘feminist historian’ because that makes me sound like I’m on some kind of crusade.  Besides, my next book is actually about a man!

logo for facebook copyYou have recently been appointed as Interim Chief Curator at HRP alongside Lucy Worsely. Have you always been a fan of the work HRP do, and if you could live in any of the HRP buildings, which one would you choose and why?

TB: I have always been a HUGE fan.  I think HRP is a remarkable organisation and a wonderful place to work.  Everyone is so passionate about what they do, and the fact that we get to spend our working days in some of the world’s most iconic palaces is such a privilege.  It’s hard to choose a ‘des res’ from among the palaces, but I think it would have to be Hampton Court.  You really feel like you have stepped back into the Tudor world there…although it’s not the sort of place you’d like to be alone in late at night, believe me.  There’s good reason for all those ghost stories!

hrp 3Source: HRP Facebook

logo for facebook copyThe past few exhibitions at Hampton Court Palace (Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber for one) have theoretically let the public snoop around behind closed doors to expose some of the secrets of the Palace. As you get a free-pass to snoop around on a day-to-day basis what secrets can you tell us?

TB: Well, on my first day I was shown a secret staircase which leads from one of the offices down into the Haunted Gallery.  It was wonderful to see the look of surprise on visitors’ faces when I suddenly stumbled out of a hidden doorway!  There is also a fantastic store of artefacts which aren’t on public display.  It is a real Aladdin’s cave up there, with everything from chamber pots to roasting spits.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 20.02.04Source: Historic Royal Palaces 

logo for facebook copyAt Historical Honey we are passionate about providing advice to young people hoping to forge a career in the cultural sector. It’s fair to say that for those just leaving University your job would be the ultimate dream. How did you turn the ‘dream’ into a reality?

TB: I still remember how hard it was, writing all those speculative letters and filling out applications, and nine times out of ten hearing nothing.  But what got me a foot on the ladder was doing some volunteer work for a historic house in my native Lincolnshire (Grimsthorpe Castle), which not only gave me valuable experience but also gave me contacts in the sector.  I then moved down to London and, partly thanks to my contacts, gained several low-grade jobs in national heritage organisations.  It didn’t matter that I was only making the tea – the fact was that I got the experience on my CV.  So my advice to any would-be heritage professional would be to volunteer in a historic house, museum or related organisation and start to boost your CV that way.  It will also help you find out whether it’s the right job for you.

logo for facebook copyThe advice we usually receive from industry professionals is to get as much experience as you can via volunteering and internships. Unfortunately, for some students this isn’t an option. What advice would you give them?

TB: This rather contradicts my last answer!  But I would say that although volunteering doesn’t necessarily pay in the short term, it should be seen as an investment in the long term as it definitely leads to opportunities.  An alternative is internships, which some national heritage organisations now offer, including HRP.

hrp 6Source: HRP Facebook

logo for facebook copyAnd finally, as it’s almost Christmas, if you could invite 4 famous historical faces to a festive feast at The Tower who would you choose?

TB: Ooh, that’s a difficult one!  First on the guest list would have to be Thomas Cromwell, the subject of the book I’m currently working on.  He has a villainous reputation, but as well as his less savoury characteristics, the real Cromwell was affable, irreverent and had a wicked sense of humour.  Definitely dinner party material!  Elizabeth I would also have to be there (it would be rude not to invite her), as would Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, and Henrietta Howard, long-suffering mistress of George II.  OK, so the list bears an uncanny resemblance to my books, but I’m nothing if not biased.

hrp 4Image source: TracyBorman.

A special thanks to Tracy and HRP for taking the time to answer our questions.

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