Another (closing fast) sell-out and a taste of the Kensington Walk

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


It’s April 13th, 2024.

Some words of wisdom from the prophet Mohammad. He said, “don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” It’s a good fit with today’s ‘pin’ – the news story that bounces us off the diving board into this episode of London Calling. I’m thinking about the death, earlier this week, of O.J. Simpson, the American football player who was tried and found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. That was thirty years ago. It was of course a celebrity trial. There was all kinds of ruckus about it. And for me it provided a piercing moment of insight – an epiphany, really. That was back in my main career as a television journalist. I was the overnight editor. I’d go into the newsroom at 11 pm. There’d be the handover from the Late Editor. And then I wouldn’t see anybody until the Editor of the Day rolled in at 7 the following morning. Not quite true. I’d see the cleaning ladies, who pitched up at about 5 am every morning to give the newsroom a smartening up. Anyway, the epiphany.

One morning, toward the end of my overnight shift, I was getting on with my copy-tasting for the Editor of the Day. The cleaning ladies came in and we’re doing their thing. I was only vaguely aware of them. And then I suddenly realised, they were all talking about O.J. Simpson. An American football player. They didn’t know the first thing about American football. It didn’t have anything like the footprint here it has today. But they knew about O.J. Simpson. It was a revelation to me. I realised just how powerful – how dominant – American culture is. The cleaning staff were a mixture of white cockney and West Indian and eastern European, had never seen an American football game, had zero interest in it, but they knew about O.J. Simpson. The trial, all the hoop-la, it had washed up on the shores of their consciousness. And I fully got the measure of that by thinking, “imagine if the English football star Ian Wright had been accused of murdering his wife – that would of course have got a tremendous amount of play in the media in this country.

Would have been on everybody’s mind. Talked about the length and breadth of the U.K. But it would have got next to no play, if any at all, in the United States. Soccer, as Americans called it, wasn’t their game. Two hundred and eighty million Americans – or whatever the population was at the time – didn’t have a clue about the big English sides Arsenal and Spurs and Man U and Liverpool.

Let alone have even the foggiest about one of the name players. In this case, Ian Wright. In terms of cultural impact and reach, it was a rowing boat up against a battleship. To put it very basically, we here in the UK know about them – know quite a bit about them – know their films and their politics and their celebrities – but put the shoe on the other foot, they’re quite spectacularly ignorant about the goings on here. We’re just not on their radar. They’re all over our radar. Size is surely a factor. It’s the difference between a continent and a small country. Here we’re a two-hour train ride away from Paris. In Decorah, Iowa you’re a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Iowa City.

And speaking of that cultural juggernaut on the other side of the Atlantic, our Random for the day – something that’s a never-ending source of puzzlement for us here, four in five homicides in the United States are gun-related. As opposed to one in 25 in the United Kingdom. In the UK in 2020 the murder rate was one person for every 100,000 people. In the United States it was seven for every 100,000 people. Double would be bad enough. Seven times as many is jaw-dropping. And that takes us back to what Mohammad said. When you travel you don’t just learn about the country you’re visiting, you also learn about the place you’ve come from.

Ok. Ongoing. London. First off, I’ve got another bit of London Walks programme news. Talked yesterday about Stewart Purvis’s Hampstead Spies Walk regularly selling out. Adam’s Rock ’n’ Roll London Explorer Day – to Barnes, Twickenham and Richmond – is fast heading into those same waters. He’s running that one four times this summer – on May 24th, June 21st, July 19th and September 20th – and as of two hours ago there were just nine tickets left for the entire run. So, yes, this is another heads-up. If you fancy going on that one grab one of those remaining tickets while you can.  Nine left. That’s well and truly countdown territory.

And I’m counting down to three and a half hours from now. Doing one of my favourite walks this afternoon. Kensington. Here’s a taster. A preview of where we’ll be going and some of the extraordinary things we’ll see. And no, I’m not making any of this up. We’ll make a quick stop in Yorkshire where we’ll see a sheep being sheared. Then it’s off to the Yukon. To a bear hunt. We’ll be high above Manhattan. On a steel girder. We’ll hang with a couple of Nubian women in Egypt who are busy picking cotton. We’ll see the ground crew spinning the propeller of a 90-year-old aeroplane. We’ll see the most glamorous 1930s woman of them all.  We’ll grimace at a deer – poor thing – who’s got an arrow sticking out of his haunch. The slain bear in the Yukon, the deer with that arrow, I’m telling you now there’s a great deal of violence right there, on the second most important shopping street in London and my walkers will be the only people who will see it. Hidden in plain sight. And that’s just five minutes on that walk. Imagine a hand-held fan and I open it just a little bit so you can see what’s between two of the ribs. And the thing is, the Kensington fan has many ribs. And that fan – all of it – all of those ribs – get opened out on that walk. The bear, the Nubian women, the 1930s aeroplane, etc. – all of those things are there for anybody to see who’s there, who’s moving through Kensington. The people brushing by us won’t see them, though. Because they don’t know where to position themselves, don’t know where to direct their gaze, don’t know what they’re looking for.

But really sets the seal on it, is the stuff I bring to the party – the old maps and photographs my research has unearthed. And that I produce – yes, multiple copies – on that walk. The madding crowd could, I suppose, one or two of them, get lucky and look up, “oh look at that, what is that? Is that a sheep?” but they absolutely are not going to see the 1865 photograph or the 1754 map that I produce. Yes, a little bit like a magician. Which – when you get right down to it – is why we go on quality walking tours.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size

walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science:

you get what you pay for.

And just as surely,

you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started

we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world

you do whatever you have to do

to attract and keep

the best guides in London –

you want them guiding for you,

not for somebody else.

Bears repeating:

the way we’re structured –

a guides’ cooperative –

is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,

a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject. Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…

well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,

every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar

and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…

come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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