Watch CBSN Live

U.K.'s First Female Beefeater On The Job

Moira Cameron has mastered the Ceremony of the Keys, the Tower of London's nightly locking-up ritual of crying "Halt, who goes there?" to challenge the Chief Yeoman Warder.

However, she is still learning the bloody history of the Tower to prepare for the demanding duty of guiding tours for some of the 2 1/2 million visitors each year.

Cameron started her new role Monday, the first woman appointed a "Beefeater", or Yeoman Warder, in more than 500 years.

"You do the job for prestige, and because you meet people every day," Cameron told The Associated Press. She relishes contact with visitors after 22 years of desk work as an army accountant.

"It's wonderful to meet these people because they so want to be here and are interested in anything you can tell them. And you can have a really good laugh with them as well."

Being the first female Beefeater, she added, "is a nice added bonus, yes, but it's the job - because it's an absolutely wonderful place to work."

Cameron, 42, started dreaming of a job in the Tower after six years in the army, but doubted then whether she would last the minimum of 22 years' service to apply.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported Cameron was so unsure about landing the coveted job, that she trained to become a plumber, just in case.

The attraction of being a Beefeater, Cameron said, is the "depth of history" in the place.

Chief Yeoman Warder John Keohane said the guards had anticipated that a woman would one day join their ranks, and that only one or two had expressed reservations.

"She's been here for two months and been accepted by the community," said Keohane, very much the traditional image of a bearded Beefeater - though about half are clean-shaven.

Cameron, who has been training at the Tower since July, said only one visitor had expressed strong objections to her appointment. She shot back: "I'd like to thank you for dismissing my 22 years of loyal service to Her Majesty's services."

Yeoman Sgt. Alan Kingshott, a member of the selection panel, said Cameron's voice made a strong impression at her job interview when each candidate made a short presentation.

"We like to see whether they have the presence, the bearing, the voice to be able to put it across ... in front of 300 people," he said. "She's from Scotland, she's got a lovely tone to her voice."

Cameron relished telling the story of a fellow Scot who got away from the Tower.

"There was a Lord Nithsdale, he was part of the Jacobite rebellion, who actually escaped," she said. "His wife, she came in with her lady in waiting, and dressed him up in a frock, and he escaped."

Cameron found the Beefeaters' distinctive Victorian uniform an improvement over the skimpy provision of the army uniform.

"Now I've got these wonderful huge pockets," she said, revealing the pockets beneath her coattails.

"Because of the style of the coat you can't see whatever it is in my pockets. I've got a bottle of water, my phone, my diary."

The Tower, arguably Britain's most famous historic site, was founded by King William I shortly after he conquered England in 1066. Henry III started his coronation procession from the Tower in 1236, a royal tradition that persisted into the 17th century.

Famous prisoners at the Tower have included Sir Walter Raleigh, three times; Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament; Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess; Roger Casement, later executed for his role in plotting an Irish uprising during World War I; Samuel Pepys, the diarist accused of selling naval secrets to the French; and Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I.

Two wives of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were beheaded at the Tower.

The Beefeater name is thought to derive from the guards' former privilege of having their fill of beef from the king's table. Formally, they are Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary.

Cameron's new role, reports Palmer, is proof that even the oldest institutions can adapt to the 21st century.

Cameron succeeded after two other women failed in earlier applications to become Yeoman Warders. "I didn't think I'd actually get the job, and I've already retrained myself to be a plumber and an electrician," she said.

There was no big celebration in December when she learned that she had been chosen.

"There was no one at home except my brother's dog," she said, laughing. "There was only the dog to dance with."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue