Our friendly and experienced tour guides have a wealth of knowledge of London’s history and vibrant culture. Michelle Buckley heads up the tour guides who plan and lead all of Insider London’s walking tours. She talks to us about life as a tour guide, her love of London and her best recommendations for exploring the city.
How long have you been a London tour guide? Why did you choose to start leading tours?
I started tour guiding on the Thames in 2009 and the following year I began giving tours for Insider London. Two reasons really, I love meeting people from around the world and I have always had a love for history and the most cosmopolitan city of London.
What’s your favourite tour to lead? What makes it so great?
Possibly the London Underground Tour! When I initially led it, I was out of my depth as it was a subject I hadn’t quite grasped. The tour attracts history buffs, train enthusiasts and engineers. The conversations I have had with past guests has opened my eyes to just what an awesome piece of construction it is and the mechanics behind it. This pushed me to extend my own research on the subject, not just focusing on the social history, but to grasp an understanding of the structural development as well. It is a massive subject to cover and there is always something new to learn.
How do you research your tours? Where do the details and stories come from?
Books, internet, archives, documentaries, passing conversations, anything really. I have an ever growing collection of books, although I do visit the library as I don’t have nor could I ever own everything. I do stock up on enough that I can call upon at any hour at home for research. Whenever I am passing a second-hand or charity shop, I have to take a peak as you never know what you will find, and I am a sucker for picking up another good read.
Is there a particular story about London that always goes down well on tours?
It has to be either the story of how the public were told the polluted air on the Underground could be beneficial to one’s health, or the story behind how the 18th Century gentleman would be guided through the West End with the very descriptive and salacious Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. I won’t say anymore, you will have to come on to our Tube Tour and Death & Debauchery Tour, respectively, to find out!
What questions do you get asked most when you’re giving a tour?
‘Is this all you do?!’ I think this is most popular on the Tube Tour, people get an idea we just continually ride the Underground all day long. But we do come above ground and there are many other tours (at street level) we all love to give.
What area of London would you advise tourists to explore first?
A difficult question as London is so diverse! It wasn’t always one big city and it still shows today in how the streets are laid out, the architecture and more. If you are one who loves the world of the Royals, gentry, and pageantry then head to the City of Westminster. A beautiful and historic walk from Westminster Abbey to Piccadilly will thrill the senses. If you want to experience ancient London, then the City of London is your first stop where clues to its ancient and medieval past can still be seen in the Square Mile today.
What’s your favourite place to go in London?
It would have to be the area around Piccadilly as I have always enjoyed the history of 18th Century London and that is when that particular area was really being built up. Avant-garde female residents to secretive clubs, the world renown tailors to an evolution in shopping, it is an area that I never tire of researching, or just strolling through.
What’s the most unusual request for a tour you’ve been given?
We have had a lot of requests for bespoke tours, but they have always been fairly reasonable and a joy to put together. There hasn’t been anything too unusual… but we are up for any challenge!
What do you think makes a good tour guide?
The best guides have a true love and interest in the city or subject they are leading a tour on, as well as being an easy conversationalist. You can’t just recite a script; you have to be willing to discuss the topic and that is when it becomes, not just a learning experience for the guest, but for yourself as well. It also makes it far more enjoyable, it can be tiring just repeating the same thing again and again!
What do you do when you’re not leading tours?
I still perform as a dancer, so I constantly juggle tours, training and rehearsals, when there is a project on. I feel there is the dancer side of me who loves being in the studio and then there is the bookworm side which quite happily will hide behind books for hours.
Finally, what do you enjoy most about being an Insider London tour guide?
I think it is the variety of the tours and the freedom to add a little bit of your own flavour. Every guide has their own personality and style. The routes are there and we all cover the main points, but we also all add our own little touch to make it uniquely ours.
There is always something new and quirky to discover in London. Michelle has introduced us to London Underground and Tube Walking Tour but we have a long list of alternative and educational tours on offer, so book now to avoid disappointment!