“I just felt I was walking on Richard III’s grave”

Philippa Langley found the remains of England’s King Richard III under a car park.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Philippa Langley: I just felt I was walking on Richard III’s grave. I can’t explain it'” was written by Elizabeth Day, for The Observer on Sunday 8th December 2013 00.04 UTC

Philippa Langley has grown fairly accustomed to the accusation that she is in love with a 500-year-old skeleton.

"I’m certainly not in love with Richard III," she insists when we meet. "But I’m passionate and I can empathise."

After the airing of a Channel 4 documentary in February which followed Langley’s single-handed determination to dig up a car park in Leicester because of an "odd feeling" that Richard III might be buried underneath, some TV viewers were unconvinced. When the Plantagenet king’s skeleton was disinterred to nationwide gasps of incredulity, there were those unkind enough to suggest on Twitter that Langley clearly wanted to "jump his bones".

In truth, the discovery was the result of seven years’ hard work and Langley was "physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted."

"In the rough cut [of the TV show], I kind of explained why I was getting upset but in the version that aired, that scene was edited," says Langley, a 50-year-old mother of two teenage boys who lives with her inventor husband in Edinburgh. "That didn’t help because obviously, when it aired, it looked like: ‘This woman is an idiot! She’s in love with his bones!’"

Langley’s fascination with Richard began in 1992 after she fell ill and gave up a successful career in advertising to try her hand at writing a film about the much-maligned king. The more research Langley did, the more she felt Richard’s actions had been misrepresented by Tudor propagandists. He was ruthless, she concedes, but then so were most medieval kings: "It was all kind of Game of Thrones." And, to her mind, there was no evidence he’d killed the princes in the tower. "History is written by the winners," she adds, sagely.

In 2004, as part of her research, Langley visited Leicester, where it was rumoured the king was buried on the site of the old Greyfriars monastery. Her trip proved fruitless but then, as she was about to leave, she noticed a car park with a private barrier across it and felt "an overwhelming urge" to go inside.

"In the second parking bay, I just felt I was walking on his grave," Langley says calmly in the hotel pub where we meet. "I can’t explain it."

A year later, she went back to test her hunch (no pun intended) and the feeling returned. This time, someone had hand-painted the letter "R" over the parking bay to mark it as reserved. For Langley, it was a cosmic sign that "I needed to get on with it".

She raised £34,000 for a two-week dig, more than half of which was donated by the Richard III Society. She then pitched the programme idea to C4. With the help of Leicester City Council and academics from the University of Leicester, Langley dug out the car park. And there, just as she had predicted, were the remains of Richard III.

Analysis of the bones revealed details about his brutal death at the age of 32. It also exploded the Shakespearean myth that he had a hunchback. Instead, he was shown to have suffered scoliosis of the spine which would have made one of his shoulders slightly higher than the other.

Langley has already co-written a book about the discovery and is doing the rounds of literary festivals. Two more TV projects are in development. And she’s still determined to get her script about Richard III made into a film, preferably starring the dashing actor Richard Armitage, who was named after the Plantagenet king.

With all that she now knows about him, does Langley think she would have got on with Richard III?

"That’s a really interesting question." She pauses, choosing her words carefully. "I think I would have admired him." Elizabeth Day

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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