Once upon a time, in the hamlet of Pickmere in the county of Cheshire, there reigned an evil knight called Baron von Buren . . . Barry Hook reports.
Oliver Buckingham is a genuine good guy. He lives in Pickmere, dotes on his wife and their new baby son and works hard during the week as a chartered surveyor.
But come the weekends, he changes. He dons his suit of armour, mounts his trusty steed and assumes the altogether darker persona of Baron von Buren.
With a 12ft lance under his arm he kicks his charger in the ribs and gallops down the tilt towards his opponent. And make no mistake, the Baron knows all the dirty tricks in the book – and employs them diligently – in order to unhorse his opponent.
Oliver is a valued member of The Knights of Middle England; a team of professional horseman, stunt riders, actors and performers who bring the much fabled sport of medieval jousting to audiences all over the country and abroad.Oliver Buckingham
They perform at numerous shows and, uniquely, also offer Jousting tuition at their specially equipped jousting school located in the heart ofEnglandin Warwickshire. Within the shadows of the famousWarwickCastle, it makes the perfect setting for theUK’s leadingJoustingAcademyand School.
Exactly how and why Oliver became a part-time member of this band of medieval knights is something of a fairy tale in itself.
“It was about 8-years ago. I went with some mates to see the Knights of Middle England performing at the Arley Hall Horse Trials. The show was amazing and when we learned that you could buy an ‘experience day’ my friends dared me to have a go.
“I enjoy a challenge so I went down to Warwickshire and had a private lesson.”
Oliver reckons it was about 11-years since he had last ridden. “As a youngster I had my own pony when I lived with my parents at Allostcok. I used to have riding lessons atHollyTreeRidingSchoolat Plumley.
“I fell off that pony regularly. On separate occasions I broke both elbows and my collarbone. My parents became worried that my regular trips to hospital would eventually arouse suspicions that I was being abused,” he quips.
With those boyhood mishaps swirling around in his head, he nevertheless went off for his first jousting lesson.
“It was probably the best day of my life. The adrenalin was flowing and the intensive ‘one-to-one lesson lasted 4-hours. I didn’t want it to end.”
Afterwards, when his tutor said encouraging things like ‘you are a natural’, Oliver decided to take the sport further. He became hopelessly addicted to a sport he never wants to kick.
After a further twelve months of intensive training, practising with the lance, the broad sword and the chain and ball, he was ready to take part in his first show. As luck would have it, that first show was at Arley Hall. Where better to assemble your friends and collect on that bet?
Does it hurt when you take a hit from your opponent’s lance? What a silly question. “It’s the equivalent force of being hit by a car at 80mph,” says Oliver.
All the shows are choreographed ‘but even so, we are all determined to win’. The knights are split into goodies and baddies. Oliver is a baddie. You could say he puts the evil in medieval. If he doesn’t get the loudest boos from the crowd he classes it as a failure.
One thing he is keen to point out is that the Knights of Middle England is not a re-enactment society. “We are showmen; we are there to entertain rather than educate. Consequently our costumes are not necessarily authentic. Our chain mail is not metal but a synthetic material which looks like metal but is much lighter than the real thing.
“Our arm guards are custom-made for the wearer but are manufactured in aluminium. The helmets are steel, made by an armourer. We also wear much more colourful cloaks than would have been available in medieval times.”
The horses are all polo ponies. They are more daring than normal horses and also faster which adds to the spectacle.
But it isn’t all showing off. Oliver often visits local schools in his full suit of armour to talk about his sport and is often ‘un-horsed’ by the children’s questions. “How do you see the Black Knight at night? How do you survive attacks by dragons?
“We also put-on mini shows for schools with four knights and horses. All we need is a playing field.”
The team travel worldwide to shows – likeDubaiwhere they performed at the Al Maktoum Challenge. They have performed at the famous Horse of the Year Show at the NEC Birmingham and some of the team have worked on various TV shows and documentaries including the blockbuster TV hit series ‘Merlin’ and the award-winning TV series ‘Ancient Discoveries’ on Sky History Channel .
Naturally, they were called-up for Russell Crowe’s ‘Robin Hood’ and more recently ‘War Horse’.
Celebrities who have been through the jousting school include, Ruby Wax, Channel 4 racing presenter Alice Plunkett (wife of British Olympic eventer William Fox Pitt), and Peter Phillips, brother of Zara Phillips and his wife Autumn Kelly . . . and of course Baron von Buren.
- If you would like to buy an experience day of even hire the knights for your local show, visit knightsof middleengland.com