Tony Appleton: unofficial town crier to the royal family (and star of US TV)

An Essex-based octogenarian has featured on front pages around the world loudly making royal announcements – although no one has asked him to do so

Among the crowd that gathered at Kensington Palace on Monday to celebrate Prince Harry’s engagement, one voice was raised above the rest: that of Tony Appleton, a self-described “independent town crier” from Chelmsford, Essex, who announced the glad tidings with a bell and a bellow: “Oyez, oyez, oyez!”

Appleton, who is 81, has shown up uninvited to every major royal announcement since 2013, when he declaimed the news of Prince George’s birth from the steps of the Lindo wing at St Mary’s hospital, London. That earned him appearances on front pages across the globe, not to mention US news networks such as ABC, Fox and CNN.

There are about 200 official town criers left in the UK, and although the rise of social media ought to have sounded the death knell for the oldest form of news distribution, Appleton’s fame has been multiplied by Twitter. The owner of a care home in Chelmsford, he has also been the official town crier of nearby Romford for the past 14 years.

In that time, he has rung his bell on a freelance basis for corporate events and public celebrations as far afield as Milan, Amsterdam and Las Vegas. The octogenarian remains in good voice by training hard: swimming 80 lengths of his local pool, doing 80 situps and spending half an hour on an exercise bike every day.

Last year, Appleton self-published a memoir, Now or Never, which details his multiple early careers. “I met the Queen at her 90th birthday celebrations last year,” he says. “The last time I’d seen Her Majesty was as a 17-year-old seaman, when she inspected me on board HMS Implacable.” Appleton served in the Royal Navy during the Korean war and the Suez crisis.

Later, he dredged diamonds from the seabed off the coast of southern Africa, before returning home to the UK, where he owned a carpet shop and trained as a professional toastmaster. About 30 years ago, he bought the title of Lord of the Manor of Great Baddow, the Chelmsford parish where he grew up, for £10,000. “I would open fetes in the official robes, and one day a little boy said to me: ‘You look like a town crier.’ I’ve never looked back.”

Appleton’s uniform was made to order by GD Golding tailors, the holders of a royal warrant. He has no official connection to the royal family, but he bristles at being labelled “fake” by the media. When there’s a royal occasion, he says, “I just turn up. Sometimes the police ask me to stop ringing my bell. But I’m a flipping town crier!”

Long before he earned his share of fame for town crying, Appleton appeared on Terry Wogan’s BBC chatshow to discuss an altogether different hobby: he purports to have been photographed with more celebrities than anyone else in Britain. A gallery on his website appears to bear out the claim, featuring images of Appleton with a galaxy of stars including Muhammad Ali, Michael Gove and Benito Mussolini’s son Romano. “I’ve got a lovely picture of me and the Queen Mother at Sandringham,” he adds. “It’s in my lounge.”

Contributor

Tim Walker

The GuardianTramp

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