- Name: Nicholas Fry
- Job: Bedesman of Chester Cathedral/Emperor of Rome
- Born: Liverpool
- Lives: Chester
- Education: Liverpool College, New College of Speech and Drama, Liverpool University
- Family: Single with one cat
I’m USUALLY in the cathedral by 9am, ready to open up and welcome our visitors. We never know who’s waiting to come in – it can be someone coming in to say their prayers, sometimes a tour group wanting to look around and sometimes it’s someone looking for information about their family; it’s certainly true that no two days are the same!
My work at the cathedral is concerned with visitor care and this covers a very wide range of activities, ranging from answering historical questions, taking guided tours, training new guides and generally helping visitors get the most out of their visit to the building. Most people don't know much about the cathedral in advance of their visit and it’s a real pleasure to help them discover its story. Sometimes, I’ll take tours up the tower, and it’s always wonderful to hear visitors’ reactions to seeing the building from a different angle; and of course, the view from the top is amazing – I never tire of looking our across the city and countryside. I usually get out for a quick lunch and then it’s back to deal with whatever the afternoon might bring. I typically finish about 5pm unless there is an evening event which requires me to be in the building.
However, I have another, rather different life, as well, which is as the Emperor Domitian. You’ll see me on Saturnalia, when the Roman Legions mark the start of the Roman winter holiday season in the city. Being an emperor is very different to the day job!
For a start it involves getting dressed in an imperial toga which is many yards of fabric wrapped in a particular way. It’s very good for looking impressive when standing still but not too good for marching, so sometimes I wear a simpler military cape which is much easier to deal with it all depends on the weather. As re-enactors, we do our best to maintain historical accuracy so the soldiers treat me as their emperor as do other similar groups from around the country.
I’ve handed out grants of land, military ‘pensions’, presided over gladiatorial contests, been driven in a chariot and represented Chester in both France and Rome itself.
During the Roman festivals in Chester, I march at the head of the procession and it’s quite an awe inspiring feeling to be hailed as emperor by that number of people. Of course, I have to be careful not to get delusions of grandeur!
But any imperial illusions soon disappear when it’s time to pack up and go home – myfeet very rapidly hit the ground!
What do you wear to do your job? A cassock in the cathedral or a toga when playing emperor.
What is the favourite part of your job? Meeting people from all over the world.
What is the least favourite part of your job? Disappointing anyone because something is finished or closed.
What would be your dream job if you weren’t doing what you do now? Owning a West End theatre – if I won the lottery!
How do you relax when you are not working? Reading, visiting historic properties, photography, theatre, antiques. I am looking ahead to the next performances of the Chester Mystery Plays in 2018; as a board member, I’m involved right from the start in thinking about how best to present the plays so that they are contemporary while still respecting the heritage of the medieval script itself. The plays are performed every five years but the planning starts about a week after the end of the previous presentation. I have acted in the plays for many years and was God in the 2013 cycle.
What is your favourite film? The Producers (original Mel Brooks version of 1968).
What is your favourite book? Good Behaviour by Molly Keane.
What is your favourite song? Dido’s Lament by Purcell.
If a film was made of your life, who would you like to play you? Colin Firth.
Have you had your 15 minutes of fame yet? I trained as a professional actor and appeared in several episodes of Coronation Street, Hollyoaks, Brookside, Emmerdale and Sherlock Holmes as well as single TV dramas including the award- winning documentary Life Story as well as films including appearing as Sir Ben Kingsley’s son in Testimony, the life story of the composer, Shostakovich. More recently, I appeared in the ITV drama Midwinter of the Spirit as a well as acting as their historical adviser, an area I hope to expand.
I’ve also performed in theatres all over the country including London, Glasgow, Oldham, Manchester, Cardiff, Mold and Worcester and originally came to Chester to appear at the old Gateway - so I have a particular interest in the new theatre.
The Chester Saturnalia parade begins tonight from the Grosvenor Museum at 6.15pm.
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