Tabloid truth, 007 & ‘soft power’, the Goddess & St Paul’s

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s June 29th, 2024.

Today’s pin – A tabloid reader I’m not. I’m a broadside man. But I have to confess, I have a soft spot – a weakness – for tabloid headlines. And while every British newspaper is front paging the American presidential debate and in particular just how hoary with age President Biden appears to be – it was a British tabloid, The Daily Star, that nailed it in a nine word headline: Manbaby beats up doddery old bloke on live TV.


As for, today’s Random. Let’s go with another low-hanging fruit from John Higgs’ wonderful book on the Beatles and James Bond. Talking about ‘soft power’ – the political term for countries attracting others by showing their best qualities, rather than achieving their aims through force or domination – Higgs says there’s no final example than screenwriter Christopher Wood’s idea for the Union Jack parachute jump in The Spy Who Loved Me. Stuntman Rick Sylvester, doubling for Roger Moore, skies toward a cliff edge. He’s being chased on skis by four villains with machine guns. Sylvester – as James Bond – skies off the edge of the cliff. Falls toward what looks like certain death. Starts to tumble. Somehow gets into the correct sky-diving position. And releases the chute. Opening, it reveals its Union Jack design. A moment of pure cinema that brought the house down. And ‘soft power’ par excellence it was. Christopher Wood said, “all over the world, whenever I saw the movie, instead of people howling and. throwing stones at the Union Jack, they were bursting into spontaneous applause…Considering the extent to which parts of the world see the Union flag as ‘the butcher’s apron’, this was quite an achievement.”


Ok, today’s Ongoing. Let’s take another look at St Paul’s.

When we stopped by yesterday I made the point that it’s the pantheon for this country’s heroes. Nowhere else but St Paul’s for the funerals Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Their funerals…and their interment. And for the third name in that Roll Call of National Honour… he’s not buried there but St Paul’s was of course the stage for Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Our pole star as guides is making connections. It’s all about making connections. Our St Paul’s – Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s – is the third church dedicated to St Paul to occupy this site. It crowns the westernmost of the two hills London is built round. And, yes, it’s another instance of the London palimpsest. One of many instances of Christianity appropriating to its own purposes and uses a spot that had been sacred to the pagans who preceded those early Christians. So that first St Paul’s – it was built in 610 A.D. – was built where there’d been a temple dedicated to the pagan Roman Goddess, Diana. When you’re inside St Paul’s – marvelling at how light that great interior is – you might want to bear in mind that the name Diana is akin to the Latin words ‘dium’ meaning sky and ‘dius’ meaning daylight. I don’t know for sure but my every hunch is those two words are cognate with Deus, the Latin word for God. Which in turn comes from the Greek word for God, theos. The wellspring for our words theocracy and theology. And theos – it’s the same word as Zeus, the Greek God of Gods – is in turn is connected with a similarly sounding Greek word that means to look at, to see, to observe. So what we’re doing when we’re guiding – looking at something – that’s sacred. God is there. And to see we need dius – we need light. Think of the greatest English painter of them all – that Londoner bred and borne – J.M.W. Turner. His legendary last words: God is light. Turner didn’t coin that phrase. Those very words are also in the bible. But whatever the sunburst that came out of, Turner thought light was sacred. To him it carried God’s spirit. So to do a pull together, we’ve got the building that dominated the London skyline for nearly three centuries, a building called St Paul’s, a building crowning the hill where there’s been a St Paul’s for 14 centuries, and that first St Paul’s in 610 A.D. being reared where there was a pagan temple dedicated to the Goddess Diana, and the name Diana is akin to the words that mean sky and daylight and the New Testament states flat out that God is light… and – here comes the connection – 43 years ago next month – July 29th, 1981 – a young woman named Diana married the heir to the throne. Diana married Prince Charles where there’d been a pagan temple to the Goddess Diana 15 centuries ago. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Close this out with a thought or two about St Paul’s creator, Sir Christopher Wren. I spoke of that airy, beautifully lit interior. God streaming through those windows. The great English critic, essayist and poet Leigh Hunt put it most succinctly. Hunt said, “looking around, the whole interior of the Cathedral, which is finer than the outside, seems like a magnificent vault over his single body.”

The great 19th-century historian Thomas Macauley was less succinct but no less eloquent. Macauley said, “In architecture, an art which is half a science, an art in which none but a geometrician can excel, an art which has no standard of grace but what is directly or indirectly dependent on utility, an art of which the creations derive a part at least from mere bulk, our country could boast at the time of the Revolution of one truly great man, Sir Christopher Wren; and the fire which laid London in ruins, destroying 13,000 houses and 89 churches, gave him an opportunity unprecedented in history of displaying his powers. The austere beauty of the Athenian portico, the gloomy sublimity of the Gothic arcade, he was, like most of his contemporaries, incapable of emulating, and perhaps incapable of appreciating; but no man born on our side of the Alps has imitated with so much success the magnificence of the palace churches of Italy. Even the superb Louis XIV has left to posterity no work which can bear comparison with St Paul’s.”

And for the missing, succinct bookend, try Thomas Carlyle’s judgement that St Paul’s was “the only edifice which struck him with a proper sense of grandeur.”

Kind of makes you want to go and see it, doesn’t it. Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times previously. Whets the appetite.


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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