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Richard Burnip, Actor and London Walks Guide: Ten Questions

Last week I did a London walking tour. Which considering I live in Australia and we’re not allowed to leave the country these days was a little different to the walking tours I’ve done before.

This time we gathered in a Zoom meeting and were taken on a digital tour by one of the guides from London Walks, Richard Burnip.

Just like the physical tours, the virtual tours cover all sorts of interests, and after loving the new Enola Holmes movie on Netflix I was more than ready to join Richard on a Sherlock Holmes themed tour.

As Richard puts it, “One of the great things about the Holmes stories is that they are capable of almost infinite re-invention and it’s always fascinating to see what new angle has been thought up by the film makers. It’s like visiting an old friend in a new house each time: there’s always something familiar about them, but the new surroundings are often stunning!”

So true! And I have a feeling I’m not the only one hoping we get to see more of Enola down the track.

The tours cost £8 per person and go for about an hour, and we could ask questions either by sending a message through Chat or waiting for Richard to pause during the tour and ask if anyone has anything to ask or add along the way.

He may have been on the other side of the world but Richard was so engaging that half way through the tour I decided it was time to bring back my Ten Questions segment, where I ask people I usually meet in real life on my travels the same ten questions about life and work.

So here we go, over to you Richard…

What’s the best thing about your job?

Probably the variety, as I do several different jobs. As an actor I’ve done a fair bit of theatre and a lot of voice work including narrating numerous documentaries and around 150 audiobooks (over 60 of them are on Audible). I write, lecture and guide on various topics and have been guiding for London Walks for many years, currently in both live and virtual tour format.

If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?

I consider myself very fortunate to do the range of work that I have, and in the current crisis I’m extra fortunate to still have some work coming in. 

What’s something about your role that you wish people understood?

I don’t really worry about people understanding the mechanics of my work as long as the end product pleases. For example, no-one who attends a Virtual Tour or lecture needs to know the amount of time and research which goes into producing it; it’s enough if they get something out of the hour they spend with me.

Similarly, everyone in the audiobook industry knows what a mighty amount of concentrated effort goes into getting the best possible product out there, from the careful preparation the actors do before recording, through all the attention to detail of the producers and engineers, to the people who proof-listen recordings to spot any errors that slip through the net. But the main thing is to serve the author’s intentions and make the book accessible in a different form to the listeners. I just try to do the best job I can.

 Read: The most romantic London hotels

 What’s your favourite thing to do on your day off?

Spending time with my wife and our boys. Luckily, even before the current crisis, both of us were working quite a bit from home, and it’s a real blessing to be all together so much of the time.

What’s a cheap and cheerful food secret you (usually) only tell your friends?

I’m not sure whether this is about eating out or cooking at home. As I don’t do much of the former, I’ll answer for the latter: I enjoy cooking very much but don’t have secrets as such. However, during lockdown in the spring over here, we dipped into a cookbook of World War Two recipes, and it was fascinating to discover what ingredients could substitute for others which weren’t available. It’s the kind of thing that increases your confidence in the kitchen, and baking things as a family is always fun.

If money was no object, where would you go for lunch or dinner?

Simpson’s in the Strand. I’ve been a handful of times over the years and am very fond of it. 

It’s a very traditional place, the food is always excellent, and it’s bursting with the past: Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes there three times; Alfred Hitchcock set a key scene in his movie ‘Sabotage’ there; P G Wodehouse features it numerous times in his stories. And since I guide, lecture and write about Doyle, Wodehouse and Hitchcock, it’s an inevitable choice.  

Simspons in the Strand, image via Simpsons in the Strand

Where do you take a friend when they come to visit?

If we’re talking about London, then the old City of London is brilliant at weekends, with all the alleyways and the little churches tucked away among the skyscrapers. And at weekends it’s usually pretty quiet, aside from construction workers, tour guides and film crews!  As I live out to the north of London, an outstanding place in the countryside is The Shuttleworth Collection.

It’s magical with woodland, parkland, the charming Swiss Garden, and regular displays by the Collection’s stunning working period aircraft and vehicles (including the De Havilland DH.88 Comet, which raced to Australia in 1934 and still flies at Shuttleworth today).

Read: Glamping Yorkshire style. Ten of the best ways to stay

What’s the best shopping experience in town?

London’s Second-hand and Antiquarian bookshops. Go there while they still exist. It’s the delight, not of finding what you already knew about on Ebay or at AbeBooks, but of happening upon something on a shelf which you hadn’t even thought about…

 Is there a local tourist cliché that’s actually worth doing?

All great cities have this about them. I think London’s great attractions only seem like clichés until you actually experience them.

The Tower, St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, they all deserve the great reputation they have, and you never run out of new things to discover in them. When I first visited London aged 10, I drew up a list of all the places I wanted to see and my father said after the trip he had never been so exhausted! But I visit many of them still. 

Is there a tourist attraction nearby that you can’t believe you still haven’t visited yourself?

Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square. 

I’ve passed it so many times and keep promising to call in, but the nearest I’ve managed is saying hello to the charming statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge, which is outside. The denouement of Basil Rathbone’s final Sherlock Holmes film takes place there (although they filmed on a set at Universal) and I’ve often wondered what it really looks like.

Thank you, Richard. I lived in London for years and I’ve already got new things on my to do list when I’m allowed to come back up that way.

Richard is currently doing five different virtual tours, including the Sherlock Holmes one I joined, and a new Agatha Christie tour to mark her 130th anniversary and 100 years of Poirot this year.

To join one of his virtual (or real life) tours, just head to London Walks here. And for more London and beyond ideas go to Visit Britain.

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