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I quit my job as a delivery boy to become a Henry VIII impersonator

Vaseline 2 months ago

David Smith in a Henry VIII outfit.
Laura Hinski Photography

  • David Smith ditched his career as a delivery boy and factory worker to become a Henry VIII impersonator.
  • He earns a living by giving lectures and performances as Henry VIII at schools and heritage sites.
  • After leaving a more traditional job, he wouldn’t consider ever going back.

This is an as-told essay based on a conversation with 24-year-old British resident David Smith about his career as a Henry VIII impersonator. It has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider has confirmed his previous and current employment. Smith declined to share his earnings.

I was eight years old when I saw a portrait of Henry VIII in all his regalia. I was fascinated by it.

From there my passion grew: I spent my childhood reading my mother’s encyclopedias, buying Tudor books and watching documentaries about Henry VIII and his six wives.

I studied the Tudors in primary school and wanted to be a history teacher, but my local secondary school did not teach Tudor history.

I ended up dropping out of school when I turned 17, working in a factory and then as a delivery person. During that time, my love of history still lingered in the back of my mind.

Everything changed when I found a Henry VIII outfit on Facebook Marketplace for £20 ($25) in 2021. I had always wanted one, whether I wore it or not.

I decided to post a photo of myself wearing it on Facebook. Immediately messages started pouring in telling me I looked like the young king. A historical costumer saw the post and referred me to a reenactment group looking for a young Henry.

I debuted my impersonation with the group on a voluntary basis. During the week I was at the factory and at the weekend I financed my own travels across the country to various palaces. The other reenactors and I traveled to heritage sites such as Penshurst Place (a site once used as Henry VIII’s hunting lodge), where we performed and walked around the grounds, educating people about the Tudors.

After a year, the high travel costs and exhaustion bothered me, but I didn’t want to give up being a Henry. I decided to do it as a paid job: I set up a business email address and a Facebook page and came into contact with palaces and historical workshops myself.

‘You have to believe that you are the king’

My current job is a far cry from my career as a delivery driver, which I ended last year.

I now work five days a week visiting schools, palaces and other heritage sites. I adapt to what the venue wants: I give historical lectures, live reenactments of historical events and even Tudor dancing.

You could describe my job as half teacher, half method actor. Almost every time I go to a school, a child asks me, “If you’re Henry VIII, how are you still alive?” I usually answer, “Well, God wants it to be that way,” and in some ways I have to believe it myself.

To do the job well, you have to believe that you are the most important person – that you are the king. You must believe that you have been chosen by God. All of that is sure to give you confidence that will stay with you.

Smith with an Anne Boleyn impersonator at Hatfield House.
David Smith

I recently attended a three-course banquet at the Old Palace at Hatfield House, an estate formerly owned by Henry VIII and now owned by the Marquess of Salisbury. Visitors could dine with me and Anne Boleyn for approximately £80 ($100) per person.

The entire experience was as historically accurate as possible. My hands were washed for me, my food was cut for me, my cup was refilled when I needed it, and everyone had to bow and curtsy before me.

Of all the events I attended, this was the one that made me feel most like Henry VIII. I felt how he must have felt when he was there and was served.

Becoming Henry

Smith with a Tudor reenactment group.
David Smith

Some people wrongly see Henry as just an obese, tyrannical despot of a king. While that is a reflection of the last years of his life, when he ordered the execution of thousands of people, that was not always how he was. He was also a scholar and a well-mannered leader.

It’s incredible to see the excitement on children’s faces when they go to school and see this historical character brought to life.

Even though I am not a traditional teacher, I still consider myself a teacher. I get all the good things – meeting new students and sharing my passion for history – without the stress that teachers have to deal with.

After my visit, a school sent me letters to my home address: thirty letters from children expressing how much they enjoyed my visit and sharing all the facts they remembered. That was a very moving moment.

Life outside Henry

Unlike my old job, I have to take my role home with me.

My beard is cut the same way Henry had his and although I am naturally blonde, I dye my hair and beard ginger to enhance the similarity.

It’s definitely a drain on my time. Every two weeks I travel about 70 miles to practice traditional Tudor dancing with a group. And even when I get home from a long day at work, all I want to do is learn more about the Tudors right away.

A large part of my income goes back to the company. Each of my outfits are custom made by Historical Costumes to my exact measurements. Prices start at £2,000 ($2,500) — and that’s without all the extras that come with it: the rings, the office chain, the medallions. I currently own two of these outfits.

It will take me some time to raise the money, but I pride myself on my accuracy. I live and breathe it.

Most of my small circle of friends also work in reenactment, and they understand that this lifestyle is a defining part of who I am. My name is saved as Henry in most of their phones.

Although my career may seem far removed from others, I still have the same concerns and ambitions.

Trying to “make it” in any industry requires a certain amount of sacrifice, whether it be your time or your relationships. Perhaps the hardest part is the fear of running out of bookings, as with any freelance job.

But all that matters to me is that I have enough to live on and continue to invest in this passion. I don’t really care about buying a nice house or nice cars, I just want to earn enough to buy Tudor books and add them to my collection of Tudor portraits.

I could never go back to a ‘normal’ job again, I will continue to do this even if one day it means taking a pay cut.