London is full of unique, colourful and eccentric characters. Here’s your chance to meet a few. WORDS: Erica Masini


The pearly king: George Major

The scene:

Strolling into Waterloo station, the Pearly King of Peckham, George Major, makes a regal wave, pecks a couple of women on the cheek and nods an “awwight” to the blokes.

“We are London,” Major says, beaming beneath a cap covered entirely with mother-of-pearl buttons and sporting a suit boasting

no fewer than 22,000 of the shiny baubles. He hugs his second cousin Nicola Major, the Pearly Queen of Peckham, and throws passers-by a thumbs up and a cheeky wink.

Who am I?

Dating back nearly 160 years, the Pearlies follow a Cockney tradition of helping London’s sick, poor and needy and dressing in traditional hand-made heirlooms.

They still focus on fund-raising and community service.

The story goes that a 19th century cargo ship carrying pearl buttons foundered on the River Thames and its cargo washed up on the banks, where East End shopkeepers gathered them up to sew on their clothes and attract attention and customers.

These “kings” would hand some of their earnings to the poor.

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Major says that while only five of London’s Pearly families remain, he hopes that his grandchildren will carry on his legacy, something he “fought for all his life.” 

» To find out more about the Pearlies and their activities check out


The Chelsea pensioners:

The scene:

William Fotheringham is chuckling in his distinctive scarlet coat, nine medals on his chest.

“They’re all deaf next to me – it’s terrible! Sometimes I wish I were deaf too,” jokes Fotheringham, 78, of Busselton, Australia, who served in the Aussie and British Armies.

Who am I?

Fotheringham and William Miles, 71, of Cornwall, are two of 300 in-pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

A retreat for injured soldiers, it was created by King Charles II in 1682.

“Blimey, I’m alright for the rest of my life,” says Miles.

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A pensioner must be ex-British army, have an army service or war disability pension, and be at least 65 .

» For opening hours and tour details see Royal Hospital Chelsea, SW3 4SR Sloane Square


The Yeoman warder: Chief John Keohane

The scene:

Regal navy blue hats with a red bullseye make Yeoman Warders look a bit intimidating as they keep the crowds in their place at the Tower of London.

“We are friendly,” insists John Keohane, 62.

“We might look gruff, and we do shout at people occasionally if they do something wrong, but we are kind old gentlemen.”

Who am I?

Nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, they work directly for the monarchy and are historically responsible for the security of the Tower.

Seen as a second career after the military, Warders must have served 22 years in the British Army, Air Force or Marines, hold a minimum rank of warrant officer or sergeant major and must be between 40 and 55 years of age.

They live in the Tower, serving as tour guides for the public, and partake in the Ceremony of the Keys – the formal locking of the gates of the Tower which dates back to 1340.

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“You have to be the right type of person to be able to talk to the public and have 400 photographs taken of you every day,” says Keohane.

» Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill exhibition.Tower of London EC3N 4AB. Tower Hill (0844 482 7777; Until Jan 17. £17