INTERVIEW: PEARLY QUEEN OF CLAPTON, TERESA WATTS
Thursday, May 31st, 2012
The origins of the Pearly Kings and Queens began back in 1875, with an orphan named Henry Croft. Inspired by the smoke pearl buttons of East End market traders he created the famous pearly suit, dedicating his life to raising money for charity. Croft passed this on to 28 families - one for every London Borough – thus beginning the tradition of the Pearly Kings and Queens; which remains a unique aspect of London to this day. We caught up with Pearly Queen Teresa Watts, who offered us an insight into life as a Pearly, the traditions of the East End Kings and Queens and what goes into the intricate costumes.
“To be a Pearly, you are either married or born into it. I was born into it, so I really don’t know any other life. My son, nieces and nephews are all 5th generation Pearlies, but this year we are looking forward to our 6th generation baby and we are all very excited. The baby will be christened in our Pearly Church, St Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square.
Our distinctive pearly costumes are all personalised and on my suit I have designs which appeal to me, including a cup and saucer, Rosie Lee, Bow Bells, fish n’ chips and apples and pears to name a few. One of our Pearly Kings has a design from a pack of cards and calls it the ‘story of his wife’. He says: “She needed a heart to love me, a diamond to marry me, a club to hit me over the head with and a spade to bury me!
My costume weighs just over 21lbs and my hat alone weighs 4lbs - if you think about two bags of sugar on your head, you can appreciate it more. The suit has more than 40,000 buttons, which retain the heat in the summer and are cold in the winter - you can’t win – but we wouldn’t part with them for the world, as some of them have been handed down through the generations. Part of the tradition of the Pearly Kings and Queens is to sew the buttons on ourselves and our suits are a work in progress. Some of the buttons are very historic and thin, so they are easily broken and our suits are constantly being repaired.
2012 is certainly a big year for the Original Pearly Kings and Queens Association. All the celebrations [Jubilee and the Olympics] are about everything British and we are a great part of that. On Saturday, I am attending 9 different street parties ending with a fish n’ chip supper and a knees-up, only to do it all over again the following 3 days. My Mum said she is out so much over the Diamond Jubilee weekend that she is going to sleep in her pearly suit!” Visit www.thepearlies.com for more information on the Pearly Kings And Queens. Click on the main image to view a slideshow.