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A day in the life: Mick O’Halloran, Chief Red Collar

Published 26 August 2015

Our trusted Red Collars are a combination of visitor host, security and guide – and a fount of knowledge about the RA. Here, we chat to their Chief, Mick O’Halloran, about his role.

  • On visiting the RA, you may have noticed that our distinctive security guards all wear tailcoats with red collars and polished buttons. Known affectionately as the ‘Red Collars’, they are central to life at the RA, and have been since the Academy was founded.

    From looking after visitors to patrolling the galleries at night, the Red Collars are experts on the goings-on of the busy Academy. Here, we catch up with Mick O’Halloran, who is the RA’s Chief Red Collar.

    How did you come to work at the RA?

    In 1994 I was working at the gatehouse at Burlington House for a contract security company. I enjoyed daily exchanges of pleasantries with RA staff as they went to and from the Academy. When I was made aware of an opportunity to join the in-house security team at the RA, it felt like a natural progression. I was very excited when my application for the post was successful.

    How do you start your working day?

    I awake each working day at 5am. I have a light breakfast before setting out to arrive at the Royal Academy for a 7am start. Once I’ve arrived, I take over from my colleagues on the night shift. There is a lot of activity between 7am and 10am, which is when we open to the public. Events could include a corporate membership breakfast or a private view, or perhaps heavy-duty building work – quite often, it all seems to happen at the same time.

    What does a typical day at the RA look like?

    The Royal Academy is a place where there is constant interaction between people. This makes for very busy days when there are countless opportunities to be of assistance to others. There is never a dull moment.

    What projects have you enjoyed working on?

    I got tremendous satisfaction at getting to grips with the computer management system when it was introduced many years ago. I was out of my comfort zone dealing with computers at that time, and we were all under pressure to adapt. But the difficulty just added to my sense of achievement.

    What’s your favourite place to go for lunch nearby?

    I rarely go out to lunch but I do occasionally socialise locally after work. I would highly recommend Veeraswamy in Swallow Street, both for the menu and the impeccable service. I have also enjoyed some really good fish and chips at The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square.

    What exhibition have you most enjoyed?

    There have been many exhibitions that I have enjoyed, but I was most pleasantly surprised to find that Anish Kapoor RA attracted such a large following of young visitors. It was also particularly gratifying to listen to the very positive comments from visitors to the David Hockney RA exhibition. It had such an uplifting effect on so many of them. I feel privileged to have witnessed the success of both these exhibitions by contemporary Royal Academicians.

  • Tell us something that most people don’t know about your job role.

    I wonder how many people know that my job role can be traced back to the very beginnings of the Royal Academy in 1768. My colleagues and I still perform functions that were written into the laws when the Academy was established.

    What’s different about the RA compared with other places where you’ve worked?

    I met thousands of people in the course of my work before I came to the Royal Academy – but that really fades into the shadows when compared to the variety of inspirational people that the RA attracts.

    What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into a career in the arts?

    Take whatever job that you can in the arts. It’s much easier to promote yourself from within.

    Be open and honest about your ultimate goal but always be diligent in what you are doing in the meantime. Remember that the far-reaching tentacles of the art world are all-connected and that your good reputation can precede you. Persevere, and you will succeed.

    What are your future ambitions?

    My ambition now is to remain relevant in order to enjoy the benefits of working at the Royal Academy beyond its 250th anniversary until my retirement when I shall, of course, continue to visit the RA for many years to come.

    Find out more about Careers at the RA.