Who is the redhead living in the Tower of London?

By Jennifer McKiernan
BBC News

Published
Image caption,
Megan Clawson: "It's just your average house, apart from the arrow slits and the swords"

With her flaming red curls, Megan Clawson looks like a fairy-tale princess. So when she walks around the moat of the 950-year-old Tower of London, it's no wonder she draws attention from visitors.

But she isn't a formal part of the attraction, or a royal ghost walking the walls, as some tourists think.

She really does live in the Tower, with the Beefeaters - who have been guarding the Tower since Tudor times.

"Obviously I always wanted to be a princess myself," she said, admitting her ginger hair occasionally made her a target when she was younger.

"In history a lot of the big figures were redheads," she said. "If I was Tudor I definitely wouldn't have people picking on me."

The famously redheaded first Queen Elizabeth of England was imprisoned at the Tower as a princess, and Megan has had lots of people suggesting she could dress up as the Virgin Queen and "scare tourists".

Image source, HBO/BBC/Pixar
Image caption,
(L-R) Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones, Queen Elizabeth I, and Princess Merida from Brave

Megan, an aspiring actor, is frequently compared to fictional princesses like Merida from Pixar's Brave and Sansa from Game of Thrones.

"Brave is the one I get all the time," she said. "Every time I go to the pub we play a game of how long it will take for someone to come over and ask if anyone has ever told me I look like the girl from Brave.

"Game of Thrones too - someone once said I looked like Sansa Stark but from Wish.com, which was funny."

Image caption,
Joe, 13, and 10-year-old Amelie were delighted to meet Megan

As if on cue, two excited young visitors were brought over by Beefeater Gary Burridge, having spotted Megan from afar.

Amelie, 10, said she was "excited and a bit shocked" to meet her, adding: "Her hair makes her look a bit like a princess."

Megan moved into a family apartment in the eastern wall of the Tower last summer with her father, Chris, who is one of 32 Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters) living within the ancient walls.

When the Tower was closed to the public due to the pandemic she was in her "own little world", walking her dog Ethel in the moat, hanging the laundry up in the castle grounds and sitting on her balcony with views over the grounds to Tower Bridge.

Image caption,
Megan walking in the private grounds of the Tower of London moat

"It's very weird," she said. "I must look insane because I talk to ghosts and ravens.

"When it falls silent it's amazing and, at night-time, that's when it feels like living in a palace.

"It really hits home when it's just you walking in the footsteps of all the people you've heard stories about and really living it."

Image caption,
Megan standing beneath the White Tower

Now the doors have reopened to the public, the 21-year-old lives with the soundtrack of shouting and sword-fighting from the exhibition about the Peasants' Revolt in the ramparts opposite her home.

Groups of tourists walking along the walls can see her on the balcony and don't realise she can hear them talking about her.

"People think I'm somebody royal and they don't realise I can hear every word they say because of the acoustics of the walls," she said.

When people hear the Tower of London is her home, they think she lives in some sort of dungeon that's "dark and damp and horrible" so the thick carpets come as a surprise.

"It's just your average house, apart from the arrow slits and the swords," she said. "I was ready to feel scared and creeped out but I very rarely feel scared here."

However, there are "little things" going on that are just eerie enough that she can't rule out the supernatural.

The lights can be "temperamental" and, despite being switched off each night, there are some that mysteriously turn back on, illuminating the stained glass.

A few of the Beefeaters' children have talked about playing with two little boys in the middle of the night called Richard and Edward, the names of the two young princes believed to have been murdered in the Tower in the 1480s.

Image caption,
This Henry VIII gnome used to live in the bathroom until it mysteriously plunged into the toilet

But Megan's favourite ghostly tale is about her dad's Henry VIII gnome that used to sit on his toilet cistern.

She said: "The cupboard door near the toilet blew open for no reason one day, knocking Henry into the toilet and breaking his legs off.

"I didn't know if that was one of his wives coming to get her own back but I like to think so."

Famous Tower of London residents

Image source, Historic Royal Palaces
  • Anne Boleyn: Not the only wife of Henry VIII to be held captive here, she was beheaded on Tower Green in 1536
  • Lady Jane Grey: Like Princess Elizabeth, the "Nine Days Queen" was a captive of Queen Mary. She was executed, also on Tower Green, in February 1554
  • Guy Fawkes: One of the most infamous figures in English history, the Gunpowder Plot conspirator was tortured at the Tower in November 1605
  • Rudolf Hess: The Deputy Fuhrer of Nazi Germany parachuted into Britain in a bizarre attempt to negotiate with Churchill. He was held here for a few days in 1941
  • The ravens: Blessed with the power of flight, the birds synonymous with the Tower of London have the freedom to come and go

Megan regularly updates her TikTok and Instagram followers on life in the Tower of London, including some ghostly goings-on.

The English literature and film graduate loves sharing the history of the Tower, and her small part in it.

She said: "This place has shaped British culture, it's the hub of a thousand years of British history.

"All the people who have touched these walls and these gates, all the things the Tower has seen - and now it's just me on my bed, in my pyjamas, watching Netflix."

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