What's it like working as a Tour Guide and Steward?
One of my colleagues at the Royal Albert Hall was going for an interview for a tour guide role recently and she asked my advice on how she should proceed. It got me thinking about what are the core skills of what I do, what is the important stuff? What first came to mind was being able to be confident in front of groups of people and presenting the material well. Only some of a good tour is having interesting content, a lot of it is in the delivery. For me being lively and up-beat and paying attention to the group are key delivery skills. Also giving people an opportunity to ask questions and talking so you can be heard by everyone are very important. As is stopping in the right places and showing people what they want to see, or what they would want to see if they knew about it. Other factors are noticing the needs of people in the group and adjusting accordingly, for example offering elevators and making sure that you have everyone with you before beginning to talk.
I often remind myself to speak slowly and like to put intent and meaning in by how I speak the words. It's important to give people time to look at what's in front of them and to talk about anything unexpected comes up, rather than ignoring it. Some years ago I was in a group tour when the guide was speaking to us in a theatre auditorium. About half way through the speech the stage hands began to rehearse some flying equipment on the stage. Our guide however just carried on as if nothing was happening and promptly lost the attention of the group completely.
The best tours are led by people who are interested in their subject and who enthusiastic about it, indeed it has been my experience that even subjects that I thought were boring can become interesting when the person who is speaking allows their interest to come through.
I was in the staff room on my break last night, listening to the conversations around me. Julie was complaining about the Extinction Rebellion protestors and wondering what they were hoping to achieve. The protesters have been shutting down roads and stopping trains running in their bid to draw attention to Climate Change. People thought that disrupting the Tube service was not very sensible as people need to get to work and I was listening and enjoying the to and fro of the conversation. Then I got involved myself and started to defend the protesters, I looked up some pictures of Waterloo Bridge which they had shut down and showed them to the people with me at the table. Almost straight away the whole vibe changed and it wasn't the pictures. Where before I had been interested and the feeling was lively, suddenly the vibe went down and I realised that I did that.
My ego was up and I was explaining and telling like it is and that's no good anymore. It doesn't help anything and you know what, nobody cares what I think. What was happening was conversation and I turned it, not deliberately, into nothing, it stopped, people got up and left and the whole vibe was different. Now I'm not using this to back up some story I have got about being rubbish or an idiot, learning not to use what you discover to hit yourself with is a key aspect of useful of self-awareness. However I realised then that I don't want to do this anymore, I want to learn, I want to converse and I want to listen. So next time that my buttons get pushed, I am going to shut up and listen.
London can be noisy and busy so small tour groups are best if you want to hear everything. I aim for a maximum of twenty. Small groups booked at times that suit you might cost over a hundred pounds with some guides. That is fair, you are buying much more than just the time on the walk, the writing, learning and marketing has to be factored in too. For me forty pounds is more reasonable because I am new to running my own tours. I want lots of happy customers who will give me great reviews and recommend me to friends and family just because they had such a great time.
I learnt to be a tour guide doing open top bus tours in London. It was a great introduction to guiding and I found I had a knack for doing it well. Over time I learnt a great deal about how to give the best tours possible. At first it was learning a lot of new material and getting my head around the politics of the bus company. Later it became how to keep my energy levels up and be warm and engaging. This is more difficult when you are on a freezing bus in the winter and have done the tour many times before. What I found works is staying present in the moment and focusing on the customers, they are different each day.
When working for the bus company I saw some great customer service but I also saw some that was terrible. People being put off the bus at the wrong stop because it suited the driver who wanted to go home early and guides that were bored giving a boring tour. Some staff were rather rude and would but their own needs before the customers.
It made me determined to never treat people like that and to endeavour to help in any way I can.
Wandering down the alleyway at the side of the Sherlock Holmes Pub I noticed this rather odd stone tracery and tiling. With a little research I discovered it was an entrance to the Charing Cross Turkish Baths founded in 1884. The baths feature in the Sherlock Holmes story "the adventure of the illustrious client" and "Psmith in the City" by P G Wodehouse.
This is the Old Cross that stood at the top of Whitehall and gave Charing Cross it's name. 12 of these were erected in memory of Eleanor of Castille, at every place her body spent the night on way to burial in Westminster Abbey.
In 1647 this one was broken up at the behest of the "Committee for the demolition of monuments of superstition and idolatry".
According to E Sheppard's book on Whitehall the marble steps were used as paving stones, wouldn't it be great if we could find them?
In amongst the busy streets of modern London take some time to discover remnants of the past that connect us with our ancestors.
Discover a new way of looking at London by exploring one road; Whitehall.
The nights are drawing in, there's a nip of cold in the air and the autumn leaves are showing their magnificent colours. Explore London after dark with with tales of ghosts, poltergeists and body-snatchers. Discover a modern haunting in the National Gallery, human bones buried in an 18th century house and look out for the Angel of the Thames.
Take a walk down an old alleyway and feel the chill of the past. With spooky places, tragic events and head-less ghosts, this is Everyday London's Ghost Walk
Tours can be arranged at times that suit you, please contact us for more details
Want to have a FUN time in London? See the sights AND experience something special?
"Andi was a friendly and enthusiastic guide with loads of interesting stories to share,
very knowledgeable about the hidden London history we walk past every day! Recommended.
Rob Sambrooks Sept 2018
"Throughly enjoyed the walk, Andi is a lovely guy and he's extremely knowledgeable."
Nichola Folan Aug 2018
"Loved our guided walking tour this morning with Andi for London History Day."
Naomi Kilby May 2018
"Had the pleasure of being on the Whitehall Walk with Andy this week. Really interesting knowledgable tour very well given.
Look forward to going on the Ghost Walk in the future."
Brenda and John Ahrens March 2018
"I joined Andi on the Whitehall Walk. I'm English and have worked in and visited London many times but still learned much
from the clever placing of historical fact with historical place. I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for Andi's Ghost walk
and am happy to report I was not disappointed."
John Hatswell Feb 2018
"It was a unique experience. Thanks again you were really good."
Alba Maria Azorin Segura Jan 2018
"I really enjoyed the ghost walk last night! Andi is full of london knowledge. Thanks!"
Lucy Mitchell Nov 2017
Jennet & I did the Ghosts, Poltergeist & Body-snatchers walk. It was really atmospheric & Andy's knowledge is encylopaedic.
We both enjoyed ourselves & highly recommend this walk.We loved walking through the narrow alleys & byways.
Mary da Silva August 2017
What a fabulous morning! Andi is a fantastic guide, with anecdotes, stories and facts about the well known landmarks of London.
Starting at Westminster and finishing up at Buckingham Palace two hours later, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it was very reasonably priced!
10 out of 10.
Gemma Kedwell Jan 2017
These are members of the Footguards, one of five regiments that guard Buckingham Palace. You can tell which regiment is which by the coloured flashes that they wear in their bearskin hats. The gentleman in this picture is wearing the red of the Coldstream Guards. The hats are real bear skin, a few years ago they tried a synthetic hat but it did not work very well and so they reverted to real skins. They are some of the most prestigous regiments in the British army and have colourful histories. If you are interested visit The Guards Museum next-door to Buckingham Palace.
Stephanie Merulla is co-founder of the company
and an experienced tour guide with a background in theatre and acting.
Originally from Canada she came to the UK to be part of the theatre
and arts community that London has to offer.
Currently touring across Europe, she is remembered fondly by all here at Everyday London
Christie Barraclough is an accomplished actor and tour guide. Warm, witty and wise she will enchant with stories of times gone by and her own experience living and working in this wonderful town.
Andi Hall came to London 28 years ago to train to be a nurse, working as a tour guide for ten of those years.
His knowledge of London is extensive, the excitement and passion for his subject, enthralling. Let him show you a London that you hadn't noticed before.
Andi reads and walks and plays music here and is always eager to learn new things so that he brings his best game to every tour. He wrote the "Historical Detective", "Christmas in London" and the "Westminster Ghost Walk".
We work as Tour Guides with many years experience of guiding but we are also muscians, actors and writers who love London.Get in Touch
We write and produce our own tours of London. Each tour includes major London sights like Big Ben and provides an interesting and entertaining commentary relating to the theme of the tour. You will get our undivided attention for a couple of hours so you can ask questions and gain a Londoner's insight into how to get the most out of your holiday. We have been giving tours for many years and are experienced with a whole range of groups of people, including young people, seniors and those with special needs. We primarily guide for visitors to London, both native english speakers and those for whom english is not their first language.
Contact us and we'll get back to you within 24 hours.
This is the tour that can include seeing the Changing of the Guard, either at Buckingham Palace or at Horseguards on Whitehall. Timings vary for that but it happens twice a day most days and is an actual piece of living history, these duties having been performed here for over three hundred years. You can also see Harry Potter and James Bond film locations and stand in the center of what would have been Henry VIII's grandest and most modern Palace. You can gaze through the 'Thatcher gates' to No 10 Downing Street, home of our Prime Minister and one of three surviving houses from a terrace put up by a man whose name is still a byword for treachery in New England.
Whitehall is a road in the old city of Westminster which stretchs from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and which follows the curve of the river Thames. In the past the river was much wider with large islands within it and the ground around it damp and boggy marshland. It has been suggested that before recorded history people crossed the river here and certainly records indicate that in these ancient marshes at least one Church stood. The road has always been a road of power from the palace of the Kings to the modern home of our Government and and much has happened on it including the spark that ignited the civil war between Parliament and the King and the place where nine years later the axe fell that ended it.
The tour with change of the Guard will start on the corner of Great George Street and Parliament St by the red telephone box.
The tour without a Change will start by this statue on the top left corner of Trafalgar Square as you face the National Gallery.
So you might run into these guys if you are wandering around Buckingham Palace. They are members of the Household Cavalry who have been maintaining a guard duty in Whitehall since the seventeenth century. Here we see them practicing in Hyde Park very close to where they are based in Knightsbridge. It takes some skill to be able to control these horses and they are often seen kicking up the dust practicing their turns. If you look closely you can see the two uniforms, the blue of the Blues and Royals and the red of the Lifeguards.
Here are the Lifeguards on their way to take over the guard duty at Horseguards Parade in Whitehall. Charles I had a barracks built there in 1642 just before the start of the English Civil War and they have been here ever since. Inside the Horseguards museum just next door you can look through a glass partition and see into the stables and watch them prepare the horses.
Further information about the Changing of the Guard can be found here.
Guiding at the Royal Albert Hall is wonderful as the building is full of music and history, two of my favourite things. If you are a fan of pop music then the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix performed on that stage, a fan of classical music, well both Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi conducted their work there. So many artists have performed there that it's easier to count those that didn't rather than those that did.
A spectacular victorian-workhorse of a building, people often stop dead still when they first come into the auditorium, eyes widening as they attempt to take it all in.
We've all been on fantastic nights out and I'm sure you've seen some great shows but the recent reading of the book, "Warhorse" was quite extraordinary. The story, set during the First World War is told from the perspective of a horse and the author, Michael Morpurgo, read the male characters and actress Joanna Lumley read the part of the horse. They were accompanied by some lovely music mostly written for the National Theatre production with songs sung by Tim van Eyken and it was drawn live by artist, Rae Smith. For me the drawings brought the whole thing together and made the show.
As she drew her pictures they were projected upon a huge screen behind the stage and used rather well. We were in the Gallery at the top of the auditorium as the narrator described the moment that tanks are seen for the first time on a battle front and she drew an excellent picture of one rearing up a hill. Then as the story continued she added straight lines to it that not only simulated the effect of shells and bullets whizzing by but also left the picture looking like the Cubist art of its time.
Taking a tour group in for an event like that is a rare privilege indeed.
These colourful railings surround St Sepulchre near the boundary to the City. It has a strong feel, full of music and home to the remains of Henry Wood, the gentleman who pretty much single handedly ran the Promenade concerts for the first thirty years. He learnt to play the organ here as a young man and whilst playing at the Queens Hall a few years later was discovered by impressario Robert Newman and given the chance to conduct the Proms. It is close to the site of Newgate prison and contains a hand-bell that would be rung the evening before prisoners were taken for execution. There is a crooked narrow garden to sit in and a drinking fountain that hasn't worked for years. Come inside to see the words that were read to the prisoners on their last night on earth.
"the dome is not just about making it look good, the dome is about making an awesome space inside the church, when the light hits the windows underneath it can light up like you flicked a switch"
Finished just over three hundred years ago, St Paul's Cathedral is what many people consider to be Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece. It replaced a Norman Cathedral, sadly burned in the Great Fire, which was one of the wonders of the age. It's beautiful inside and still a working church so many services take place here including the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. On the front steps the bird lady sang "feed the birds" in Disney's Mary Poppins and you can sit on those same steps and look down Fleet Street and catch the late evening sun, people will have been doing that for hundreds of years.
When I was there we were lucky enough to be shown the library which is just mental, a tall room surrounded by wooden bookshelves with great piles of books on all the tables and piled up on every available surface with the librarian almost buried amongst all of it. They have a wonderful collection as books where sent from all around the country to help restock the library after the Great Fire.
According to Wikipedia there are 6,800 scheduled buses running on over 700 routes with nearly 2 billion passenger journeys each year. A number of different buses are used but they almost all share the classic red livery that has been associated with London buses for many years. Recent improvements include services that allow a passenger to discover when their bus is due with a mobile phone and new ways to pay your fare. Indeed if you plan to use any of the London transport services it is sensible to get an Oyster Card. This has a small micro-chip in it that can be charged up with money and used to pay fares on buses, the Underground trains and even river boats. The fares are cheaper with an Oyster and once you spend the cost of a day pass it stops charging you. A rather clever bit of kit.
The bus network is extensive so for getting about town they are a great cheap option with lots to be seen from the top deck of the bus. They can however be very slow so if you want to get anywhere quickly either a cab or a bike is your best bet. The black cab is a London institution and can be hired on the street. All drivers have done the Knowledge which involves learning thousands of streets off by heart and they can be a font of knowledge, stories and local colour.
The cycle hire scheme is fab. Known affectionately as Boris bikes they are fairly easy to use with docking stations all over town where bikes can be hired and deposited. Many routes are in parks or on cycle only lanes, the new lane along the Embankment is a lovely ride all the way along the river from the Tower to Westminster. Payment is taken via credit or debit card at the street terminals and journeys under half an hour are free.
So when to come to see the Change? The change happens on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday out of season but timings can vary so please check here, this website is your friend. If you want to be there from the start then you need to be outside the courtyard of St James Palace just after 10.30am (I know, confusing isn't it ! Fortunately this early Tudor palace is only across the park). If horses are more important then Horseguards is where it's at, the Change taking place on Horseguards Parade at 11am every day except sunday when it's 10am. The dismount ceremony at is also worth seeing, essentially putting the horses away at night but done with all this military ritual that has been preserved for over a hundred years. This is done at 4pm in the smaller courtyard on the Whitehall side of the Horseguards.
The Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, a church that professes alliegance to the Queen rather than to the Church of England. Once a home of monks, it was a little city within a city and had its own laws and practices from times mostly forgotten. If time or cost don't permit going into the Abbey itself then take a walk in Deans Yard to see some of the oldest buildings and even get a peek at where the monks used to pray. Evidence of Roman activity suggests human use for at least two thousand years and our earliest written records indicate a church here in the seventh century. It was near here that William Caxton set up his printing press at the sign of the Red Pale and began the process that would eventually lead to the almost complete destruction of the hand-made book. It wasn't so at the begining though and those early copies must have been seemed so poor compared to something hand-made. Indeed in one of his early books he notes in the preface the difficulties he had with the established industry.
20th-31st Dec including Christmas Day
If you want to make the most of your holiday, see the sights and discover something new then you are in the right place. Each Everyday London walk mixes the must see sights with stories, insights and off the beaten track routes that explore the best of what London has to offer. For Christmas I have gathered a potted history of Christmas itself and wrapped it up with modern Christmas Trees, Markets and Nativity scenes. It includes a walk across the river, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
Come and find out how London has celebrated Christmas and what has changed over four hundred years. Featuring fabulous Frost Fairs on the frozen Thames, Charles Dicken's ghosts and torn winter clothes as the local youngsters take advantage of the crowds to play tricks on the adults, experience a London Christmas with Everyday London.
Tours cost ten pound per person and take about an hour. We meet at the Thumbs Up statue on Trafalgar Square and finish by Westminster Abbey