The British royal family has captured the curiosity of many people, British and otherwise, and they raise lots of questions. (And we’ve got answers to many of them: how much is each royal worth? Why can’t they give out autographs?) However, there’s another group of people that spends a lot of time around Buckingham Palace, and while far less high-profile, they might be just as fascinating. The notoriously still and stoic Queen’s Guardsmen (and women) also raise a lot of questions. Luckily, a Reddit.com Q-and-A with a working guardsman set out to answer them. From hats to hot weather, here are the 12 most interesting things we learned.
1. Those guns aren’t loaded…usually
The Guard’s intimidating weapons only have ammo in them when they are aware of a potential serious security threat. The guard on Reddit, who uses the username “nibs123,” says that he has never carried a loaded gun as a Guardsman.
2. There’s a freaky reason they wear those hats
Almost as intimidating as the screen name “nibs123” are the fluffy black hats that the Guard wears. OK, yeah, they’re not all that intimidating. But apparently, in “the old days,” the hats were considered intimidating. Also, the hats’ chinstraps are fastened under their noses in case of attack: cavalry soldiers would aim for the head. The placing of the strap ensures that “the hat would come off if hit without breaking our necks.” Delightful. Here’s a timeline of the Queen’s craziest hats.
3. Also, they’re HEAVY
According to the Redditor, the hats weigh “about two to four kilograms.” In pounds, that becomes…four and a half to nearly nine pounds! As if that weren’t enough, the hat is “heavier if it gets wet.” Yikes!
4. Some bears were harmed in the making of the hats
Those hats look so furry because…they’re made from real bear fur. The Redditor says that they did try the more humane option of “synthetic” furs, but the colors ran too easily. However, that doesn’t mean guard-hat-makers are massacring bears on the daily. “We only get new [hats] if the old ones are too far gone to repair,” the Redditor says. And, apparently, that takes quite a while; his hat is from 1968.
5. You have to pass a test
How difficult is it to become a member of the Queen’s Guard? Since the Guard is basically a military organization, candidates have to pass the BARB, the British Army Recruit Battery test. According to the Redditor, the BARB tests your “basic logic and smarts.” The other requirement he mentions? “You must be tall.” Here are some surprising ways your height affects your health.
6. There are circumstances in which they are allowed to speak…
…but you probably don’t want to be on the receiving end. Guards “are allowed to get [people] away by shouting…warnings if they fail to move away or start to act aggressively,” the Reddit guard says. For instance, they’re known to yell “make way for the Queen’s Guard!” at tourists who get in their way. He admits that he finds shouting this to be a fun part of the job.
Here are the words you’ll never hear the royal family say.
7. They get bored
Yes, standing there for hours on end does get tedious. “I tend to sing songs in my head or try to remember…a movie from start to finish in my head,” says the Redditor guard. “I’ve gotten pretty good at that.” Sometimes he’ll even try to photobomb tourists (while maintaining his professional demeanor, of course). “Also, sometimes I just people watch, since they’re doing it to me.” Seems fair.
8. They don’t like it when you imitate their walk
One of the most iconic traits of the Guard is their strut-march combo of a walk, and many tourists try to imitate it. According to the Redditor, they usually fail. “A lot of people try to mock the way we march by doing it all wrong, which is sometimes annoying.” You know you’ve always wanted to take these 18 clichéd tourist photos.
9. Standing still for that long carries a serious health risk
Some people think the guards aren’t allowed to move at all, but that’s not true; in fact, moving is pretty much mandatory. The only movements they’re allowed during their regular shift are to “turn to the left, march about 10 paces, turn around, and go back to standing still,” says the Redditor. “It’s best to do this every 10 minutes or so to stop yourself from fainting from the blood that gets trapped in your legs.” Here are some more reasons perfectly healthy people faint.
10. They hate the hot weather, but not for the reason you think
The “stay still” rule is so strict that guards aren’t even allowed to wipe their sweat away. If the heat is especially brutal, people will sometimes come from inside and bring them something to drink. However, our Redditor’s least favorite thing about the heat? “The drill boots’ polish melts in direct heavy sunlight and we have to redo them.”
11. They’ve chatted with Queen Elizabeth II
While the Reddit guard admits that the novelty of meeting important people does tend to wear off, he still remembers his first meeting with Her Majesty. “When I was on guard at Windsor Castle, she came up to me with her husband and the dogs and asked me some questions. She’s really nice.” If it were us, we’d be gushing over the dogs just as much as the queen. Here’s why the queen loves corgis so much (other than just…what’s not to love).
12. Yes, they laugh sometimes
Well, at least our Redditor friend does. “I try not to, but sometimes you just can’t help it; some people are just too funny.”