You have to feel sorry for Tutankhamun. Forgotten by his people after his death, he is only famous now because his tomb was discovered, largely intact, by Englishman Howard Carter in 1922 - the only tomb of a Pharaoh which still contained its treasures. Accordingly, he has been given far more fame and significance in death than he had in life. Imagine someone, 3,000 years from now, discovering the grave of John Major, making him the most famous British ruler. Songs would be written about him, films would be made and a legend of the curse of the grey underpants would capture the public's imagination. That's what has happened with Tutankhamun. Except the grey underpants curse bit: King Tut's underpants are beige and they're on display in Cairo's Egyptian Museum.
Tutankhamun was neither the most popular nor the most influential of Egyptian Pharaohs. He didn't really have a chance to be - he was nine when he became king and 19 when he died in 1324BC, either murdered or falling victim to an infection. This meant that his tomb, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor (an hour's plane ride from Cairo), where all Pharaohs during the 16th and 11th centuries BC were buried, wasn't ready for him. Instead, he was buried in one that had been prepared for someone else, perhaps a high priest. To add insult to injury, one of his coffins - Pharaohs are buried in three, each nestled inside each other - was for a woman.
It is probably the smallest and least impressive of all the tombs you can visit in the Valley of the Kings, yet it costs an extra £9 to visit. Is it worth it? Well, you do get to stand in the same room as Tutankhamun's body, the only mummy of an ancient Egyptian king to lie where it was placed. As you descend the narrow stairway, hidden away from the dusty main path that is baking in 45°C heat, there is the same dark, musty smell of old rock that there is in all of the tombs. Howard Carter was beside himself when he first entered 85 years ago, marvelling at the 'wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another'.
The small dusty room with its fading paintings has lost its magic since then. There isn't a lot to see in the tomb, apart from the sarcophagus and the decoration on the walls, but the importance of the discovery of Tutankhamun is in the treasures that were found with him. The legend of the curse of the Pharaoh - Carter's budgie died on the day he opened the tomb, and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon died soon afterwards - helped to make Tutankhamun famous. Although robbers had got into the tomb, it is thought this happened soon after the Pharaoh's death and not much had been taken. Hidden by debris, the tomb and its secrets had been preserved until Carter came along. Now, many of the 5,000 treasures are kept at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and others are on a touring exhibition, which reaches the O2 arena in London this month. The last time the travelling exhibition of Tutankhamun's treasures came to Britain, in 1972, people queued for eight hours to see it.
It is easy to see why. I spent hours in Cairo's museum and I usually start yawning as soon as I even think about museums. The treasures are mesmerising: from the huge gold necklaces in the shape of falcons, jewelled amulets and golden chariots to his small fold-up throne, glittering daggers, intricate games, which nobody has worked out how to play and the huge wood and gold shrines that came flat-packed, 3,000 years before some bloke in Scandinavia started doing it. Tutankhamun carried a walking stick, whose handle bore the likenesses of his enemies - Africans from the south and Asians from the east. He used the stick upside down, so his enemies were crushed into the mud with every step he took, which to me seems like a lot of effort to go to in order to show how much he hated them.