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Michael Portillo drives flock of sheep across London Bridge

The former Tory MP was joined by more than 600 fellow freeman in the Great Sheep Drive.

Michael Portillo leads a flock of sheep over London Bridge (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Michael Portillo leads a flock of sheep over London Bridge (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

By Emma Bowden, PA

Former Conservative MP Michael Portillo has driven a flock of sheep across London Bridge as part of a centuries-old tradition in the heart of the capital.

The broadcaster, who is a freeman of the City of London, was joined by more than 600 fellow freeman in the Great Sheep Drive.

Clad in a checked wool suit and carrying a shepherd’s crook, Mr Portillo led the first drive over the bridge which was once London’s only river crossing and sole trading route.

Freemen were historically allowed to bring livestock and tools into the city without paying tax in a tradition dating back to the 12th century.

Blustery conditions did not deter bemused Londoners from taking pictures of the 30-strong flock of North of England mule sheep on Sunday morning.

Mr Portillo told the PA news agency he had known about the tradition since he was a child and was “very excited” when he was invited to take part.

“Many people today are unaware of where their meat comes from, where their wool comes from, so bringing the countryside to the city is quite beneficial,” he said.

I think it’s important... to be reminded what the wealth of this country used to be built on Michael Portillo

“People have been making their living out of wool for a very long time and we’ve been eating sheep meat for forever and a day.

“I think it’s important to be reminded of all of those things, to be reminded what the wealth of this country used to be built on. And the ways in which we’ve adapted and found new ways to create wealth.”

Alan Titchmarsh led the drive in 2018 and previous years have seen Dame Barbara Windsor and Mary Berry kick off the proceedings.

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600 Freemen of the City of London take up their historic entitlement (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Peter Estlin, Lord Mayor of London, told PA: “One of the balances is how do we celebrate our history and our legacy but at the same time be relevant in the future.

“This is a bit of fun, it’s not a formal rite nowadays, but it is actually ways in which we can get children and families to come together.

“We’ve got 600 people crossing the bridge today and that’s fantastic, because it’s raising money for charity.”

The drive is expected to raise tens of thousands of pounds for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and the Woolmen’s charity.

PA

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