After Tate Britain closed last Wednesday night, a homeless man had the museum all to himself, the London Evening Standard reported. Raj Patel had fallen asleep in a bathroom stall just before closing.
“I’m not a great fan of art, but there’s a loo near the door so I went in,” the 32-year-old former IT worker told the newspaper. “I’m homeless and I suppose the day just caught up with me, so I dropped off.”
Patel said he vaguely remembers someone entering the bathroom and shouting “security,” but no one checked the stalls. When he woke, the lights were off, the doors locked, and the few security guards present entirely unaware of their guest. Patel wandered around the “eerie” museum for about 10 minutes before he saw anyone.
“When I found [the security guards], they just let me go,” he recalled, noting that no one asked for his name or even bothered to check the two large bags he carried. “I was shocked because I was ready to explain how I had come to be locked in there … It was very strange indeed.”
Art theft is reportedly on the rise, so the homeless man’s after-hours stroll may prove — despite the public embarassment — a blessing in disguise: Tate Britain is now reviewing its security. The museum houses more than 70,000 British artworks dating from 1,500 AD through the present day, including masterpieces like Turner’s “Caligula’s Palace,” purchased for £29.7 million (~$48 million), and Constable’s “Flatford Mill,” thought to be worth at least £22.4 million ($36 million).
Thankfully, Patel is nothing like the two thieves played by Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million. In the 1966 film, the two hide in the utility closet of a Paris museum. When it closes, they trick the guards into turning off the alarm, then rush in to make off with a $1 million (luckily fake) Cellini.