Ever wondered what it’s like to be a London tour guide? We chat to Tony, one of Insider London’s enthusiastic guides about introducing tourists to the city of London.
At Insider London, our guided tours are run by a wonderful group of fun, informed and enthusiastic tour guides. Today we talk to tour guide Tony Sweet about what its like working for Insider London, his favourite strange stories about London, and the best places for tourists to visit.
How long have you been a London tour guide? How and why did you choose to start leading tours?
I’ve only been a tour guide for just over a year now – but it’s possibly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As a musician most of the day jobs I have done in the past were never satisfying and didn’t utilize my skills correctly. But since my first tour I have never looked back and to be honest I can’t see my self ever doing another day job!
What’s your favourite tour to lead? What makes it so great?
Without a doubt the Street Art Tour. East London is my area and I love taking tourists around to see the scene and to discuss the changes that are happening. The street art is constantly changing and evolving and it means that every tour is completely different as each new tourist will see and want to talk about different art pieces. Having said that, I also love the more darker tours such as the Death and Debauchery tour – talking about murder, drinking, crime and prostitution. It’s very adult themed but full of all the gruesome, good and true facts about old London you don’t usually read in the guide books.
How do you research your tours? Where do the details and stories come from?
This is a great question! Most of the bulk, to be honest, comes from the internet nowadays… I do love to get info from books but the web has everything at the touch of a button. It does mean I have often worried about Google checking my search history, where all they will find is searches such as ‘brutal murders in London’ or ‘alcoholics and prostitutes in London’ or ‘mass burial sites in London’… I mean, since I became a guide it’s very rare I search about flowers or nice things!
Is there a particular story about London that always goes down well on tours?
I think it has to be when I am discussing the most popular form of old age entertainment – the public hangings! Back in the day, before television, radio and computers it was quite common to go down the pub on a Friday night, get totally drunk and then head to Tyburn (Marble Arch now) to watch a good public hanging! On my tour I go into great details about the subject and love to see people’s reactions.
What questions do you get asked most when you’re giving a tour?
I think my most commonly asked question is ‘how do you maintain such energy through out the tours?’ Sometime we might do 3 tours in a day. My answer is simple – I LOVE this job as a tour guide and my passion and enthusiasm comes through naturally anyway. But if I get a group that are equally interested in the subject at hand I get even more excited.
What area of London would you advise tourists to explore first?
That’s pretty tough to answer actually. I like my advice to be bespoke! London is an amazing city that caters for everybody; depending what you are after we have it! If you’re a rocker I advise Camden town, if you’re a hipster then go to east London shoreditch – but if you want posh, high end, go to Westminster. And that’s not even to mention how diverse the night life is…
What’s your favourite place to go in London?
My truly favorite place is Greenwich. Not only is it my birthplace but it has a royal house, a beautiful park and a funky, trendy little market all set on the Thames. As I said, I was born there… and so was King Henry VIII!
What’s the most unusual request for a tour you’ve been given?
Well, I’ve given a tour around London from inside a limousine. But this summer we have a request for me to give a young lady a “One Direction Tour”. A tour related to the band…. Did I mention the tours have their ups and downs?
What do you think makes a good tour guide?
Personally, the most important thing is a genuine interest in the subject. Whilst people skills are essential, a passion for the history and stories is way more important. People aren’t silly and they know when you are reading from a script or doing it just as a job. For me, it’s a passion rather than a job.
What do you do when you’re not leading tours?
I’m a musician. I spent the last year recording an album, soon to be released. So that takes up a lot of my time, playing live shows… However, I do quite enjoy doing my own tourism as well and have travelled quite a lot around the world. It’s something that I believe gives me great perspective – especially as a tour guide.
Finally, what do you enjoy most about being an Insider London tour guide?
The best bit has to be the fact that Insider London caps all of its tours. We generally put a limit to the size of the group (unless you are a private party where we will take more) which mean every tour will feel personal if not private. It also means we can smile as we go past other tour groups of more than 30 customers to one guide! Mostly though is the freedom to make each tour ‘my own’ and adapt the content tell the stories I believe are the most exciting and interesting!