Once upon a time, there was one of the biggest security scandals to ever hit the royal family. But how did this man pull it off?
The Fake Footman
When one man managed to slip his way into Buckingham Palace and pose as a footman, he learned a great deal. Ryan Parry’s eight-week experience allowed him to get up-close-and-personal with the Royals, discover holes in their security, and provide the world with all there is to know about how the world’s most famous family lives.
So who was this man that went above and beyond just to find out what the rooms look like and what the Queen eats for breakfast? Back in 2003 when the events unfolded, Ryan Parry was no ordinary footman but a reporter for The Daily Mirror. His reports on the royal family were a little stiff, until one day he realized he came across a job advertisement that could gain him firsthand experience of the bizarre rituals that go on every day inside Buckingham Palace…
The Job Ad
The undercover reporter who worked for the popular British newspaper saw the post of a trainee footman advertised on the Palace’s website. It required the successful applicant should have “good communication skills, be able to work unsupervised and within a team” while also retaining a “friendly, polite disposition.” Ryan was immediately interested but knew there was no way Buckingham Palace would let him in knowing he was a reporter. So he did the unthinkable…
Building A Resume
Parry took a gamble and built a fake resume. Almost everything on it was untrue, except for his name. Parry compiled a cover story saying that he was an office manager for a paint firm. He included working as a bar manager and waiter at the Parciau Arms, in Anglesey, when in fact he was a glass collector. All the time leaving out one essential fact – that he was a journalist. His lies paid off and two days later, Ryan received a call.
On the morning of August 7, Parry attended his interview dressed in a suit. The Travelling Yeoman, Nigel McEvoy, conducted the interview, explaining the role and then questioning Ryan. He then met Stephen Murray, Yeoman of the Silver and Gilt Pantry, who interviewed him for the under-butler role. Lastly, he saw Edward Griffiths, the Deputy Master of the Household and head of G- Branch, who quizzed Ryan on why he wanted to be a footman after working in an office. Overall, Parry had no idea what impression he had left.
Parry put down two references, one was a former university lecturer and the other a made-up director from the paint firm. When the Palace attempted to call the Parciau Arms, they discovered the landlord had left years ago. However, rather than demanding an alternative reference from Ryan, the Palace asked the barmaid to give the telephone to one of the pub regulars who said, “Yeah, I know him,” when the barmaid shouted his name. According to the palace, this sufficed.
Getting The Job
Ryan Parry did not have to wait long for an answer. In less than a week he received a call back from the Palace. Nigel was on the other end of the line to give Ryan the good news. He told the new employee that getting security clearance could take weeks, but nevertheless, he gave him a start date – September 23. This was not the only formality that was carried out much quicker than it should have been. Already Parry saw red flags.
A Perfect Fit
Rather than doing a simple internet search to realize that Parry was a Daily Mirror journalist, the Palace called the undercover reporter in on August 13 to be fitted for his new uniform. The livery consisted of black tails, a scarlet waistcoat, three white shirts, and a black tie. He also received a white tropical livery with gold trim for summer and a scarlet one for state occasions. A day later, Ryan received his official employment confirmation. This was really happening…
The First Day
Finally, the day came and Parry headed to Buckingham Palace for his first day as a footman. He was met and provided with a full all-areas security pass. In addition, he was handed the traditional uniform of the Queen’s trusted aides which could allow him access to every member of the royal family, no questions asked. If that wouldn’t make a dangerous plot easy enough, he was even shown secret hiding places for keys to all the royal apartments.
He may have lived amongst the Royals, but Ryan’s living conditions were far from luxurious. He lived on the footman’s floor in the part of the Palace called London Bridge. It was on the second floor, directly above the famous Picture Gallery and the Queen’s bedroom was just yards away. His room was small and basic. It had a bed, wardrobe, desk, and a sink. Meanwhile, he had to share toilets and showers with other staff members. From this, he learned many secrets…
While mingling with the other 13 footmen, Ryan found out many things. He learned that there was a high turnover of staff and the Palace is always looking to recruit. Parry got to see this for himself in the first four weeks of his training when one of the other recruits was sacked. His work was not up to the correct standard and that the personnel office had noticed issues with his references. This was strange as they had not checked Parry’s…
A Tense Atmosphere
It is a demanding job to be a footman. Hours are long, especially on days when there is a dinner or reception, and it can create rivalry amongst the staff. Some would even argue over whose turn it was to clear away the cheese and biscuit dishes. They would get three meals a day, which would often involve leftover roast pork that had been served to the Royals the day before. Page Richard McCue, who runs the Palace social club, would do his best to catch staff out.
Life In The Slow Lane
If the living conditions for the footmen were not bad enough, they had to start their day at 7:30 am and were even requested to avoid walking in the middle of the carpet. Instead, they were required to walk next to the wall, down “the slow lane.” With a salary of £11,881, reduced to £9,338 after living costs, it was no surprise that the turnover was so high. Ryan Parry wondered, other than an undercover reporter, who would want to fill such a vacancy.
More Royal Than Royalty
Some of the more senior household members at the Palace seemed to have been treating the footmen even worse. One worker said, “They think they’re more royal than royalty. They fire orders around and some don’t bother to say please, thank you or even hello.” Major Duckworth-Chad is a prime example. Supposedly, his boots have to be spit-polished to a “glass finish” and his belt buffed before being put out in his room.
The Queen’s Breakfast
Ryan Parry had the stressful job of setting up the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s breakfast table. He would put out a plate of fruit along with a cup and saucer for their Earl Grey tea. Parry had to study in detail the plan of the table, even down to where the honey and maple syrup should be placed. Apparently, the Queen enjoys her toast with light marmalade, although most of it was fed to her corgis under the table.
Delivering The Tray
On one weekend, Parry was one of 10 members of staff waiting on the Queen for her morning coffee. “The maid waited two and a half hours” to transfer hot coffee from a pot to a silver jug. He then carried the tray 20 meters and handed it to the page, who would then carry it another eight meters to the dining room for serving. There is a sort of map for each royal’s tray, navigating where each condiment, milk jug, and teapot should be placed.
Secrets At The Gate
As well as being trusted with the heavy tray, one policeman trusted Parry enough to point out all the CCTV cameras hidden around the Palace and where exactly the “tremble wire” was located. This could have been detrimental to the royal family if Parry was not just a reporter but something much more dangerous. What’s more, he was told the secret code name which Prince Andrew uses to enter the Palace gate. However, sometimes he wished he never knew it…
Staff at the gates comment on how Andrew flies passed them in his Aston Martin so fast that even police stand back. Prince Andrew was much less tolerant when it came to his attitude towards footmen. He is known amongst the staff for being coarse and demanding and every morning you just don’t know what type of mood he is going to be in. Sometimes it can be “good morning” while others a non-PG rated way of implying to leave.
Most Shocking Breach
While even getting the job was a massive security breach, something really stunned Parry on October 15. He was given the task of delivering an envelope for the Queen to her page. He knew she was home as he had been on standby to meet her as she landed from the royal helicopter earlier. Parry headed to the Queen’s private corridor and could see her corgis lying there asleep. However, when he arrived, her page and footman were nowhere to be seen. The Queen had been left unguarded.
If it wasn’t bad enough that Parry had easy access to the Queen, almost anyone could. Despite his own unqualifying credentials, he was allowed to check visitor passes. Although passes were scrutinized at the entrance, one police officer told him, “People often sneak through undetected, so a second check should be made if you don’t recognize the face.” Sometimes, these faces were famous. One day he got to greet and usher in Jeremy Paxman after he arrived into the waiting room.
Officers at the door rarely checked bags either. When one visitor opened his up, the policeman replied, “I’m sure it’s a very nice bag, sir.” It seemed to Parry that access into the Palace was not difficult, but he was not fully aware of the extent. He was told that the Palace is always on alert for suspicious parcels. In November, he witnessed experts being called in when an unusual envelope was delivered. Luckily, it turned out to be some tea bags.
After learning so much from inside the Palace, Parry knew he had a great story and decided enough was enough. At 9:45 pm, he packed up his stuff in two holdalls and left his uniform on the bed in his room. Nervously, he walked out past two British armed guards, terrified that he would get asked questions. However, just like the way he entered, he passed the gates of Buckingham Palace without checks and without questions.
Not My Cup Of Tea
“I soon realized life as a footman is not my cup of tea. With long hours and pitiful pay, no wonder the novelty of working for the Queen soon wears thin,” Parry wrote about his experience. Releasing his account the next day, the world was exposed to the security scandals and the true colors of the royals. Parry has since moved on to work for The Daily Mail and has not considered working as a footman again. Luckily, the Queen agreed to settle legal action against Parry.