Forget the Eye and the Shard, it’s old London tourists want
Cristina Odone finds that the capital’s hordes of tourists aren’t interested in the shiny new additions: it’s London’s historic sites that they’re heading to.
The capital is swarming with tourists, and two of them are staying with us. Anna and her nine-year-old daughter flew in from Florida for a week’s holiday, with no plans to see the Olympics, as tickets are too pricey. (Though now that Anna’s seen a well-placed seat at the women’s netball reduced to £100, they may reconsider.)
On their first day, as they fought with their jet lag, I produced a collection of leaflets I’d put together for them. I’d ticked every box of the newLondon experience, I felt, with brochures that covered everything from what’s on at the Southbank Centre to the London Eye and the Saatchi Gallery. But it wasn’t Cool Britannia the visitors were after. They were resolutely in search of the old-fashioned version, featuring Buckingham Palace, the British Museum and Madame Tussauds.
This was London the Prince Charles way: Beefeaters and double-decker buses rather than Renzo Piano and Damien Hirst. I was further surprised to find that Anna and Sophia were typical of the incoming hordes this summer: the Visit London guide confirms that tourists rank the British Museum and the National Gallery as their top capital attractions, while the Eye comes a mere fifth. The Shard and the Southbank Centre don’t feature.
I can’t help thinking, as our guests come home lugging mugs marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (bought on their visit to Westminster Abbey) and tea towels adorned with Big Ben (bought at the V&A), that they’re teaching me that the rest of the world still loves Britain. Its street cred may lure globetrotters with intellectual pretentions or fashionista flair, but it’s not our unique selling point as far as ordinary tourists are concerned.
Our masters, please take note: forget commissioning newfangled projects, just maintain the old attractions. It is cheaper and easier—and a lot more popular. Has anyone ever heard a tourist asking for directions to the Dome?
One visitor likely to complain about his London stay is Bruce Springsteen. Three hours into his concert in Hyde Park, the American rock star was joined on stage by Sir Paul McCartney. The audience went mad at this “first”, and the legends belted out two Beatles hits. But before they could launch into a third, those in charge turned off their sound equipment – in order not to breach the 10.30pm curfew.
Ticket-holders booed, and Springsteen’s guitarist took to Twitter to hyperventilate about Britain’s “police state”. But I say hurrah for the silence enforcers – and please, could they not limit their efforts to concerts. I’d like them to impose a noise curfew when my neighbours fall asleep with their TV at full volume, blaring out the shopping channel late into the night; and when cars with souped-up sound systems collect shrieking passengers in the small hours. As another American rock legend once crooned, oh, for the sound of silence.
• Poor George Osborne is under fire, once again, for having belonged to the Bullingdon Club. A photo surfaced this week of gorgeous George sporting a pouting pose and the distinctive (blue frock coat, gold waistcoat) uniform of the notorious university dining society. It may date from 1993, when George was young enough not to shave every day; but it is seen as a way to embarrass him now.
The Chancellor should take comfort from knowing that in Poland, they celebrate the fact that Radek Sikorski, their foreign minister, was elected to the Bullingdon. When a penniless refugee who arrives in Oxford without money or connections gains entry to the most elite society in the university, it becomes not a byword for exclusivity but the epitome of British open-mindedness.
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