My life in history: Henry VIII impersonator
In the first instalment of History Revealed's 'My life in history' series, Mike Farley, aka 'Good King Hal', talks about his career as a Henry VIII impersonator...
Why did you choose Henry VIII?
Because I look like this! I tried being George Clooney, but I starved. When I first started in 2004 my beard was incredibly red, and I have to say I did look just like the famous Holbein painting when I was fully “togged up”. My beard is mostly white now, but I still think I am one of the most facially accurate Henrys around.
How did you start out as an impersonator?
Some friends were doing living history days in schools, offering Vikings or Romans. But everywhere they went they were asked if they knew anyone who looked like Henry VIII who could do a Tudor Day. They nagged me, and I initially said “no”, but eventually I agreed. I did my first day in June 2004 and just loved it straight away; I’ve been appearing at schools ever since, as well as other locations, of course.
At what stage in his life would you have liked to have met Henry VIII?
I think younger Henry, when he was more human and approachable and not the curmudgeon that he became towards the end of his life. I play a few Tudor instruments as well, so it might have been fun to have a little ‘jam session’ with the King!
What would you like to ask him?
What really happened at the Field of the Cloth of Gold? What did you and King Francis I of France get up to?
What’s the best part of your job?
Visiting schools and bringing Henry to life for the pupils – I will never tire of this. They just love the Tudors and can’t get enough of Henry. I also do jousting shows with The Knights of Royal England team; it’s just so wonderful getting to some beautiful historic castles, houses and palaces and putting on a big show for the public, with the horses and knights coming to the fore.
Where do you get your outfits from and how long does it take to get ready?
My current costumes are incredibly comfortable. I have a couple made by a lady in Martock in Somerset and another by a lady based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. My original Henry VIII costume was very authentic, with tie-ups, laces, etc. It took me forever to get ready, but my newer costumes are a bit of cheat with hidden zips and similar. I can go from 21st-century old boy to Tudor despot in about 15 minutes flat now.
If you could impersonate anyone else, who would it be?
Alfred the Great is another historical character who greatly appeals. He was an incredible man who did some amazing things with his life – astonishing really that he’s best remembered for burning some cakes, allegedly.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened while you’ve been Henry?
I’ve been propositioned once or twice by people who would like to get to know me better.
Which of Henry VIII’s six wives is your favourite?
Personally speaking, I have so much admiration for Catherine of Aragon. She was so incredibly brave and strong; stood up to some pretty intensive bullying in an age when women were expected to just meekly give way to any demand from a man.
I also have a great love for Anne of Cleves. She was quite a character, too, but also seemed a very kind and generous lady.
Good King Hal can often be seen at Hever Castle in Kent and can also be found online.
This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of BBC History Revealed