LEADING his tour group through the dark streets of the Capital on a cold winter’s night, Frank Keddie exudes enthusiasm and confidence on one of his now infamous ghost walks.
He’s a natural entertainer and the passion and knowledge which have won him universal plaudits on travel review website TripAdvisor are clearly in evidence.
But behind his fervent exterior, Frank faces a daily battle against his personal demon. A demon which these tours are helping him to overcome.
Two years ago, the former security guard was left devastated by the death of his beloved mother, Edith, who died suddenly of kidney failure at 65.
He had spent the previous six years caring for her and the void left by her unexpected passing threw Frank, 45, into the depths of depression.
It led to a stint on the streets and two failed attempts to take his own life, but now things are firmly back on track thanks to his newfound calling.
“My mum was one of the kindest people you would ever meet and when she died it hit me badly,” Frank says.
“She had a number of health problems like brittle bone disease, angina and water on the lungs, so it was decided she needed a carer and I moved back in to look after her.
“I’d take her to all her hospital and doctor appointments, I’d drive her to see her friends, take her to the pub, or wherever.
“Despite her health problems, her death came suddenly. The strange thing was it didn’t hit me immediately when she died as there was so much going on.
“It was only later that I realised that I’d never see her again.”
On September 29, 2010, Frank drove to one of his mum’s favourite spots in Queensferry on what would have been her 66th birthday. He then texted a friend to say goodbye. Their message exchange thankfully stopped him in his suicide bid, but Frank said he still did not realise he was ill.
“I just thought it was a silly moment and I had acted on feelings. I didn’t think it was depression, just that I didn’t want to be around anymore.
“It wasn’t until later that I was diagnosed and started to get treatment.
“Sometimes I still wish I had gone through with it and others I am happy that I didn’t. That’s the strange thing with depression.”
A family dispute left Frank with nowhere to live and the former Broxburn Academy pupil spent three nights sleeping rough before getting a place at the Blackburn Homeless Unit.
He bedded down at Edinburgh Airport each night and was able to get hot food and showers at a friend’s house nearby until the unit called to say he had a place.
As part of his rehabilitation he was encouraged to take up voluntary work so went looking at the local library. It was a chance advert, looking for volunteer guides at St Giles’ Cathedral, that became his unlikely salvation.
“I was just looking on Gumtree and the ad popped up,” he says. “I know you get plenty of pop-ups but I’d clicked to stop them and it just kept coming back. It was as though it didn’t want to leave me.
“I’m not a religious person at all, and I ignored it to begin with, but then it just kept coming back until I thought I’d e-mail them. The rest, they say, is history.”
Within days Frank, who had spent 15 years working in security in the building trade, retail, at the city’s sheriff court and on army bases, was helping out at the 12th-century cathedral.
Soon after he would be spending 300 days straight at St Giles’, brushing up on its history, before starting taking on the daily tours.
“I have always been in love with history and knew more than I thought about St Giles’ already. I had been studying paranormal in the Capital for three years and you need to know the history of these sites to do that,” he says.
“The people there really brought me out of my shell and made me realise that I had these talents I never knew I had. John Knight and Joe Penny, who were already guides up there, taught me so much.”
Frank, who lives in Whitburn, West Lothian, in a home organised by the shelter, proved an instant success.
The positive feedback he received gave his confidence a real boost and the encouragement he needed to branch out and try to forge a living from guiding.
He established Thistle Knights Tours in May last year, which offers a variety of guided walks around the Capital from his base on the Royal Mile. They have been rated 13 out of 82 activities to do in Edinburgh by TripAdvisor.
The tours, which run twice on Saturdays and Sundays and once a Friday, have allowed Frank to forge out a decent living, but he says the personal transformation they have enabled him to achieve is worth more than money.
He says: “I have now found that I really love doing it. It’s a fight to stop myself letting it go belly-up.
“I never thought in a million years I would get to where I am. I thought I would be six feet under now.
“Whatever made the St Giles’ advert keep popping up is what saved me. One of the ministers at St Giles’ said it was someone telling me something.
“My friends at St Giles’ have always kept my spirits up. It’s really them that have helped transform me. This is my way of saying thank you to all of them.”
‘He made it enjoyable’
SOME of Frank’s TripAdvisor reviews in the last month:
• “Great tour” – We thoroughly enjoyed this tour as a family, and if I’m honest we are not really into too much history! Frank made it very enjoyable and had extensive knowledge, he was also more than happy to answer questions. He also gave the children a little participation which was nice. Would recommend this tour.”
• “St Giles’ Historical tour” – Thoroughly enjoyed an informative and interesting tour on a very cold day today in Edinburgh! Our guide, Frank, was very helpful and aimed his tour towards our interests. He answered all our questions and pointed out many interesting features of buildings within Edinburgh. Thanks again Frank.”
• “If you book one historic walking tour then book this one!” – This tour was amazing! It was factual, funny and informative. Your tour guide, Frank, will hold your interest for the whole two hours of the tour.”