King Richard Iii Remains Found, The unearthing of a skeleton in a Leicester car park last year caused a sensation when it was confirmed as being Richard III. But for PHILIPPA LANGLEY, who instigated the remarkable discovery, the fight to salvage the reputation of this much maligned monarch is far from over
A KING and a commoner: such an irresistibly fascinating combination under any circumstances. But this is a uniquely beguiling tale, a richly embroidered tapestry of dark intrigue and villainous mystery; murder and myth woven through with golden threads of hope, faith and possible redemption. And made all the more extraordinary by the fact that the monarch in question is the much-maligned Richard III, dead and lost for 500 years, and the modern-day commoner is a mother-of-two from Edinburgh, who rocked the academic world in August 2012 when she discovered the last Plantagenet’s resting place – beneath a car park in Leicester.
Acting on an apparently psychic presentiment, screenwriter Philippa Langley, 51, instigated a search for Richard’s grave. The skeleton was uncovered in the exact spot where she told archaeologists to dig. That spine-chilling moment, captured on camera by a Channel 4 film crew, was 24-carat TV gold when it aired in February of this year.
Amid the cautiously pleased archaeologists and detached academics was Philippa: exhilarated, tearful, overcome. ‘I have seen the programme and there were 60 hours of film to edit down into an hour and a half, so of course they were going to focus on the more dramatic incidents,’ she shrugs. ‘But you have to understand, it took four years of research and a three-and-a-half-year battle to get that car park excavated. I needed the scientists for their rigour, but I had walked 1,000 miles in Richard’s shoes. The archaeologists were carrying out a professional project and found bones; I was seeing the human being, the man at the heart of so many myths and heinous untruths.’
In Richard III: The King in the Car Park, viewers were riveted by the account of his discovery. Yet in its own way, Philippa’s story is every bit as compelling as that of the monarch who was felled at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
On film, she came across as, if not unhinged, then certainly obsessive after her seven-and-a-half-year quest for a king. Social media networks dismissed her – ‘batty’ being one of the kinder epithets. There were arguments, for example, about her insistence that the bones – still unidentified – were indisputably those of Richard so should be accorded royal reverence, with Richard’s Royal Standard flag draped over them as they were carried away from the site.
Philippa was accused, too, of being ‘in love’ with Richard. Is she? ‘Ask any writer about their connection to their protagonist and they will tell you they feel not love, but empathy,’ she says. ‘They understand that person’s motivations, their emotions.’ When the archaeology team used the skull to create a reconstruction of Richard’s face, the result was remarkably similar to a portrait of the king. Philippa swooned like a teenager meeting a pop star. ‘That doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. He’s very handsome,’ she sighed. Twitter went crazy about her ‘girl-crush’: ‘Snog him!’ said one tweet. Would she kiss the skull? Would she be led away by security?