London History Bulletin – February 1st

On February 1st, 2013 the Shard’s Observation Deck was officially opened. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Ten years ago now so going up there’s become practically a vintage pleasure.

By up there I mean the Shard’s observation deck.

And yes, it was ten years ago today, February 1st, 2013 that it was officially opened.

And that’s about all that’s made it into the London chronologies. The Shard – at the time the tallest building in western Europe – opened its doors to its observation deck on February 1st, 2013.

But let’s fill in the picture a bit.

First of all, the Shard didn’t hold on to that title – the tallest building in Western Europe – for very long. Today it’s well back in the pack – the 7th tallest building, I think it is. Still, no shorty, the Shard. Here’s one for you – the next time you walk across the Millennium Bridge get a feel for its length. Length-wise the Millennium Bridge is about what the height of the Shard is. The Shard’s 1,020 feet high. The Millennium Bridge is 1,066 feet long.

Anything else? Yes, cutting the ribbon was a public school boy with something of a checkered future up ahead of him. Yes, we’re talking Boris Johnson. Remember him. Doubtless none of us has seen the back of him. Wielding the scissors, the Mayor of London – that was his office at the time – described the Shard as the most amazing building.  He said, “it’s the closest thing to being in an aeroplane and looking down on London.”

The best plum in the pudding, though, was a marriage proposal. Made and accepted. On level 72, 22-year-old James Episcopu, got down on one knee and put the question to his girlfriend Laura Taylor. She rewarded his bravery with a big smile, a kiss and a yes.

Let’s hope, ten years on, they’re a happily married, getting-towards-middle-age-now, couple. For the record, Level 72 translates to the marriage proposal being made – and accepted – 800 feet above the capital.

And on that jolly note, it’s sign-off time.  

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin. 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: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won 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. See ya tomorrow.

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