It’s been a weird time for performers, entertainers and middle-aged blokes who dress up as Robin Hood for a living this past year or so; as I’ve mentioned before there’s been precious little opportunity to work at all in tourism because…well, there simply aren’t any tourists, and even if there were it would have been illegal to perform for them. Fun times, eh?
But on June 1st I had my first actual in person, live (and paying!) gig for well over a year and it was an important one both for me and for Nottingham; after many years it was time for the City Council to ceremonially hand the keys of Nottingham Castle over to the Castle Trust, the not-for-profit body who’ll be responsible for running the newly refurbished site when it opens.
And so, fresh from having my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine the day before (and thus feeling a bit ropey, I must admit), I dug out my Robin Hood kit, squeezed into it and headed up to the Castle for an 8am photocall with both the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of Nottingham, the Chair of the Trust, representatives of the Council and the group who’d overseen the refurbishment of the site and buildings and loads of newspaper and TV reporters from the city’s media organisations.
I know the Castle can be a contentious subject; I know people who are adamant Nottingham has no castle as the building most people call ‘the castle’ is actually a ducal palace from a much later period (a building still hugely important in its own right, mind you – it was, for instance, the first municipal library in the country outside London), but unlike other medieval castles it has not fared well, with only a few sections of wall remaining as well as the historic caves.
The vast amount spent on the whole site (which in fact is ‘the Castle’) in landscaping, repairing and creating new facilities and galleries has taken what we have and made the most of it so we now have what promises to be a vastly upgraded site that can genuinely be a modern world-class attraction, display space, museum and event location.
The grounds have been improved considerably. A lot of the self-seeded trees whose roots were digging into the sandstone have been removed, the moat cleared of overgrowth and debris and a new visitor centre built just inside the gates. Inside there’s a whole new ‘Robin Hood’ gallery complete with archery and quarterstaff games (thankfully I did reasonably well…) and the rest of the building and galleries have been remodelled sympathetically, extensively and impressively.
But for me the hand-over ceremony was a bittersweet affair; I’ve been Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood for a very long time now – I started ‘Hooding’ (if that’s allowable as a verb) over thirty years ago (when I had just the one chin and a flat stomach) and as the City’s Robin I realised that this event might well be my last appearance at the Castle as their official resident outlaw.
I’ve no idea if that’s the case or not but it certainly added extra poignancy to the morning for me and made me think about all the memorable, fun, silly, happy and wonderful times I’ve enjoyed there over the years; the Pageants, events, guided tours, filming TV shows and parades I’ve spent there with tens of thousands of visitors, my friends, fellow performers, reenactors, castle staff and management and especially with my wonderful and much-missed Maid Marian and late wife, Sal.
There was even the time when, seven years ago, I was officially made ‘Under-Sheriff of Nottingham’ by the then real Sheriff so we could work together to help raise the funds which ultimately led to the now finished renovations – who’d have thought, Robin and the Sheriff on the same side for once!
So whilst I’ll still be (and be exceptionally proud to be) the City of Nottingham’s official Robin it may be time to let a new era start at the Castle – after all, I’m now eleven years older than Sean Connery was when he made the fabulous movie ROBIN AND MARIAN about the final days of an elderly and infirm Robin.
But I’m still not quite ready to hang up my tights yet – especially as I’m still under-Sheriff. Because who knows, maybe one day I’ll stand (as Robin) for election as the real thing – and I’m pretty sure that would make history!