Meet These Londoners with Iconic Careers

What’s it like to be a part of London’s community? We meet five people who make the capital so special.

Yeoman Warder: Pete McGowran

Beefeaters – known as Yeoman Warders – have guarded the Tower of London since King Henry VIII reigned in the late 1400s. Pete McGowran is chief Yeoman Warder. 

“I’m from Birmingham and spent 25 years in the Royal Air Force,” he says. “I’d visited London fleetingly, but my first experience of it was in 2009 when I came for a holiday. We toured the Tower of London and my wife said, “You could be a Beefeater!”.

“I applied and spent six months learning its background – I had to memorise lots of detailed information on the tower’s 1,000-year history. Then, in 2009, I came on an open day with my family and moved in. 

“I’ve never tried on the Crown Jewels – I’d be frightened to even touch them. It’s my job to greet visitors and I have met many celebrities and royals. I was in the DVD for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the cast of Spider-Man filmed here. I have also escorted the Queen into the chapel and showed her around, when she visited in 2014 to see the poppies marking the centenary of Britain’s involvement in World War I."

Pearly king and queen, London, UK
Pearly kings and queens have a history in London, and continue to celebrate. (©Pearly Society)

Pearly Queen: Diane Gould

Born in a King’s Cross orphanage in 1861, street sweeper Henry Croft was the original pearly king. He admired how traders elected a king or queen to organise collections for sick colleagues. Inspired by their sense of community and their mother-of-pearl suits, he made a pearly suit of his own, which he wore to collect change for his orphanage. Henry’s friend, George Dole, helped him to raise funds; George’s great-granddaughter, Diane Gould, is a fifth-generation pearly and the Pearly Queen of St Pancras. 

“I was born near Finsbury Park and my earliest memory is visiting relatives working at Chapel Street Market, near Angel,” she says. “The market was the heart of the community – there were Indians, Italians, Chinese and we all got on. King’s Cross is my favourite place. I live in Sussex now but my roots are in London; my heart is there.

“My dad was a pearly king; he raised about £40,000. I began fundraising with him in the 1970s. I made a skirt and two jackets. The symbols have meanings: a heart means love, a circle of life shows me in the middle of my relatives, and I have a horse’s head because I have a horse.

“Sometimes I attend two events a week. I visit fêtes, markets and schools for talks and singalongs. You can’t just put a pearly suit on and be a pearly. It’s in your blood. I’m passionate about it and it’s embedded in me.” 

Jackie McPake, taxi driver, London, UK
Jackie McPake is an underground driver on the Jubilee Line. (Courtesy Jackie McPake)

Tube Driver: Jackie McPake

If you’ve travelled on the Jubilee line, then you might know Jackie McPake’s voice. Originally from Scotland, Jackie now lives in Tottenham. 

“I started working in customer service at Green Park in 2004 after seeing a job advert. I began training to be a driver in 2007. Training took six months – I learnt how signals work, how to move the train if it’s defective and where they can reverse, and I spent a day in a simulator. I start at Wembley or Neasden at 4.45am and finish at 9.30am or 1.30pm. As I cover rush hour, I’m never bored. I have so many announcements to make and sometimes I have a trainee with me. 

“Passengers drop things on the track every day, usually mobile phones. I also have to deal with arguments – recently I had to stop at Dollis Hill to break up two women in the carriage behind me. One was irate, so I got her off the train and calmed her down. Another time a controller called to say a six-year-old girl was on my train but her parents were still on the platform. At the next station, I announced her name and met her on the platform. She was crying but she enjoyed sitting in the driving seat before having an emotional reunion with her parents."

Abdul Turay, Grenadier Guard, London, UK
Abdul Turay takes part in ceremonial duties including Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. (Courtesy Abdul Turay)

Queen’s Guard: Abdul Turay

Abdul Turay is in the Grenadier Guards and takes part in the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. He has lived in London for most of his life and now lives in Blackheath.

“I’ve been in the Army for seven years and I joined the Queen’s Guard because it’s iconic and because of its presence in London,” he says. “We trained for six months, marching for miles with 20kg on our back, doing obstacle courses and lifting each other. We also learnt ceremonial duties at Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace and did lots of rehearsals for Changing the Guard. 

“I’m based in Aldershot in Hampshire. A typical day begins at 6.30am, with breakfast at 7am followed by physical training. The rest of the day is spent at the firing range, map reading or learning first aid, except on Wednesday afternoons when we can pursue sports we’re interested in – I like boxing. 

“Sometimes we have duties in London, such as the Queen’s birthday parade. I often see royals drive past and I’ve met Her Majesty twice – both times she commented on my height, as I’m 6ft 6in”

“I stand guard for two hours at a time. I’m aware that the world’s eyes are upon me, so I hold myself back from yawning. Tourists often try to make the guards laugh but we’re trained to be disciplined, so I think I’d maintain a straight face even if a stand-up comedian was next to me!"

Lisa Seymour, taxi driver, London, UK
Lisa Seymour drives visitors and locals around the city – and sometimes feels like a counsellor. (Courtesy Lisa Seymour)

Taxi Driver: Lisa Seymour 

Hail a black cab and you might meet Lisa Seymour, a driver from Peckham who now lives in Deptford.   

“My dad was a taxi driver, so he suggested I study ‘The Knowledge’ to become one myself. I applied in 2015,’ she says. ‘You memorise 320 routes in a six-and-a-quarter-mile radius from Charing Cross. You have to learn the shortest route from A to B, with points of interest along the way. You live, eat and breathe London. It took me three-and-a-half years."

“Drivers see so much, especially in the West End. You see people protesting and dancing in the street. Drunks are difficult to deal with. And we have to do what we can to keep things calm. Once a family got in at Victoria in a hurry to get to Warner Bros. Studio Tour. The parents were arguing, the kids were crying and it was rush hour. It could have taken two hours but I knew the back streets so we arrived in 55 minutes."

“Passengers tell you everything – it’s like you’re a counsellor. Then they get out and another passenger gets in with another story."